Column: Figuring out my father

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on April 7, 2009

No matter how old (and/or mature) you get, your dad remains your dad – the man who the lucky of us look up to first and foremost.

Last weekend, I saw my dad for the first time since my wedding in October. I can’t even remember when I saw him before that. He lives in Orlando now after many years in Seattle. I live here. And neither of us have much time to visit the other.

But this past weekend he was in town on business for a new job he just started, so I got the rare opportunity to spend time with him. He now works for a company that helps hospitals handle their invoices among other things, and one of the biggest trade shows for his business is happening in Chicago.

This is how I ended up at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s annual conference Sunday at McCormick Place in Chicago. Typically, I would be loathe to spend a Sunday afternoon checking out booths about the technology that makes hospitals work. I hate going to hospitals, and this felt like visiting the second cousin of hospitals who I don’t particularly like much either.

But I don’t get to see my dad often so I put my heebie-jeebies aside and made the trek out to Chicago.

I’m glad I did. It was good to see him and fascinating to watch him in his element.

You see, I’ve never been able to adequately tell people what he does. Generally when asked, I say he sells stuff, which essentially is true. But at this conference, watching him interact with other salesmen, I finally was able to figure out what he does. He doesn’t sell stuff. He sells himself.

The other salesman would speak in jargon. My dad would speak in jargon back. (I have no idea what they are saying. My brain typically turns off once it hears the words “modalities” and “integrated processing systems.”) The salesman would frown. My dad would smile back. They would speak in more jargon. Hands would be shook. Business cards would be passed out. My dad would leave with a smile on his face, mission accomplished.

I have no idea what he accomplished, but in what I’m sure is a bit of role reversal, I was proud of him for accomplishing it.

In many ways, that’s what all fathers do with their sons. They sell themselves to us – show us how to live our lives. Sometimes it’s for good. Sometimes it’s for bad. Sometimes we follow. Sometimes we don’t. But for the most part, we can’t help but buy into it.

I had to leave a bit early to beat the snow, so I hugged my dad and headed back to my car. I’m man enough to admit a few tears dropped as I drove away. No matter how old I get, I’ll always be a son and I’ll always miss my dad. What can I say? I buy what he’s selling. And I’m glad I can because not every son is so lucky.

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. Write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

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