Things My Father Taught Me: Jessica Sliman

In college, I would force her to read every word I wrote, be it a ten-minute play for an Econ class or a ninety page screenplay about high school. Yes, I wrote a play for an Economics paper. It was my only A in that class. I always envied her ability to write about real life in a way that was both heartfelt and incredibly entertaining. Many of her stories still sit as fresh in my mind as they did when she’d share them the night before turning them into professors. Jessica and I shared many late night chats which I still reflect on as some of the most insightful of my young adult years. She will always be more attuned to reality than me. My neighbor in the dorm during our freshman year, she was my closest friend when we graduated. And, whether it’s a short personal essay or an e-mail about her kids, she’s still a fine writer. I’m glad she’s begun to place pen to paper again, eight years, four cities, a husband, and two kids later. Here she talks about her dad, one of the most laid back guys I’ve met. Happy Fathers Day to her dad, her husband, and all the dads in her family.

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I’m late in sending this, and I feel guilty about it (I’ve been a non-practicing Catholic for SO long, yet I still manage to feel guilty about everything). When asked to contribute to the series, I was honored and excited, and then, suddenly, blank. It had been a long time since I had written anything that wasn’t solely for myself. And the more I thought about what to write, the more lost I became.

When I thought this might have to relate to fashion in some way, all I could picture were the tapered Levis and tucked in golf shirt. Usually with no belt. And white tennis shoes. A uniform of sorts for the suburban dad. I thought about my dad’s love of sports and specifically the Cubs. How he passed that onto me. How Wrigley Field is one of my favorite places in the entire world. How my favorite number is 17 because I grew up worshiping Mark Grace. About how he taught me to golf in high school. How I took that love of golf through high school and college and to today. Maybe I could write about his balance. His willingness to listen. How he never reacts emotionally to situations. When I was sixteen, and at my wits’ end with my mom, my dad would come home, plop down his brief case, loosen his tie and listen to me complain. Pretty much every day. I mean, he always sided with my mom (I realize now as a parent how critical it is to always side with your spouse), but just the fact that he sat down and listened made me feel respected. I’ve tried to remember that in life. Sometimes the greatest thing you can do for someone is just listen.

But what I really needed to say hit me this morning. I was sitting on the couch, nursing one daughter and watching my other daughter bury herself in stuffed animals. I thought about the time I spend with my girls. The hours and hours each day and night I share with them. And then I pictured them older. Away from me, away from home. And suddenly, sadly, I knew what the problem was. I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t know my dad anymore. At least, not really. I left home at seventeen. Went away to college, moved from one state to the next before winding up in Texas. It’s been over ten years since I lived with or even near my parents for any duration of time. Maybe it’s because we’re both busy. Maybe it’s just a product of proximity. Maybe it’s just our personalities. But I don’t feel all that connected to home anymore.

And so we go through the motions of asking about work, the grandkids, the weather, our weekend plans. I enjoy our conversations. We catch up. But I don’t know what makes him tick. I don’t know what makes him happy or frustrates him or makes him get up and go to work everyday. Or how he felt about turning 50. Or how he really feels about his only daughter and only grandkids living so far away.

So this Fathers Day and in the upcoming days, months, years, I plan on changing that. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t know if it will easy but I do know I owe to my myself and him and my kids. It’s exciting. I plan on getting to know my dad again.

– Jessica Sliman

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