I remember Sunday nights when I was little, maybe 4 or 5. We would sit down and have dinner together as a family. After we finished, it was time to start cooking again. My dad would make pounds of ground beef, chicken or whatever we were going to have for dinner over the next five days. He even started showing me how to prepare food very early on in my life — though he always left out certain “secret ingredients” when teaching me — and I loved it. For years, that's how most Sundays would end, cooking and storing a week’s worth of dinners with dad. Just dad.
When my parents got divorced when I was about two years old, he got primary custody, which is definitely rarer for the father to get. I have always had a relationship with my mom, but dad raised my sister and me by himself for over a decade.
Growing up, it always felt like we lived a normal life. I was never hungry or without food, and always seemed to get what I wanted for a birthday or Christmas, like my badass hot wheels or basketball hoop. In high school, Dad paid for gas. In college, Dad paid for classes. I thought I was too young to understand the hard work it took to create that “normal” feeling before, but I’m just as confused about it now, so I had to ask.
Dad put in twelve hour days every week, which left very little time afterward to get anything done. This is why we made all of our dinners at the same time. I’m pretty sure he only taught me to cook because he needed the help. Help is often something Dad talks about when I ask him how he pulled all of this off. Timely assistance from relatives or friends made sure we weren’t home unattended for too long, or that we didn’t miss important events.
But even when he had no other choice, dad still made it work. One year, my sister and I were supposed to attend a Christmas program at our church. The holiday season was always the time Dad worked his hardest and latest every day, and we weren’t going to make it. He left work while still clocked in and in uniform and got us there on time and stayed until it was over. I asked why he risked getting fired over it, he simply said his “priorities were in the right places.”
The common thread through all of this is that Dad has always put us first. He is so selfless and caring it astounds me to this day. From first grade tee ball, all the way through high school football, he never missed a single one of my sporting events, and I sucked. When I wanted to learn to play the guitar, he let me pick one out and encouraged me to learn new songs all the time. I still sucked.
It's taken me a long time to realize, but being raised by my hard-working, single father made me who I am today. I used to wonder what my parents staying together would have been like, but now I know I would be a completely different person. My dad made me kind and caring to others. My dad taught me how to work hard and use your time wisely. Most of all he gave me the love and attention as a kid that I needed to grow into the man I am now. I know it sounds cliché, but if I can be half the man he’s been my whole life, I think I’ll do okay.