Some of the most important lessons we learn from our Fathers are those during time of conflict. It is inevitable that a son and his Dad will have a confrontation as a son grows to a man. A good Dad turns that confrontation into lessons that the son takes with him for a lifetime. On this Father’s Day, I recall one confrontation and what my Dad taught me.
When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away. I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends. It was understandable in some respects. I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend. I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.
I remember the day as it is almost yesterday. My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off. As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed. I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional). I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that. I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.” He half dismissed it but I did not. At that moment, I decided to run away.
My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods. Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!). Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off. I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me. I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.
Back then I could run fast. I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below). I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.
I do not know how he knew where I was going. I will never forget it. He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough. He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life. Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President. He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life. He then hugged me and I got in the car.
My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas. I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat. My brothers adjusted better. Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend. Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.
But I should have been! Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years. And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)! I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:
- I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38! She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved. I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state. Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
- Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
- I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision. My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds. But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
- The last lesson from him is the power of apology. I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home. It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!