Reconsidering Dad as Father's Day Nears

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Commentator Kevin R. Free says his dad may not have been perfect, but he was a better father than he realized. Free is an actor and writing coach living in New York.

ED GORDON, host:

They say nothing can ever prepare you for being a parent. You do the best you can and hope your kids turn out okay.

Commentator Kevin R. Free thinks back on his childhood, and he says even if his father didn't realize it at the time, he did a lot of things right.

Mr. KEVIN R. FREE (Actor and Career Coach): You're not doing something right, son. That is my favorite quotation.

My dad, The Colonel, said it to my brother as we drove to a family reunion. What he was doing incorrectly, I don't know, because all that remains of that memory is, you're not doing something right, son.

My family won't all be together on Father's Day this year, so I won't get to hear all the same old stories about The Colonel's malapropisms. He once inquired about the location of the HB Beau Guide(ph), so that he could curtail our R-Rated film viewing. So I thought it might be nice to honor him with a list of some of the things he did right when I was a kid.

My mother died when I was six, and my father raised us by himself for five years. He did the best he could with three rambunctious boys, but the best thing he did at the end of that five years was to marry my stepmother. And to this day, I am not sure she knew what she was getting into; but she caught on pretty quickly. She could zig when we zagged. She tattled on us when we were out of control. And she was appropriately remorseful when we got in trouble for being out of control.

I tried out for baseball in the fifth grade because dad told me I had to. My uncle and grandfather, I still maintain, had tricked me into signing up. But it didn't matter to dad how my name got on the list. I was his son and I had to honor the commitment I'd made.

See, I learned that year, without a doubt, I am no good at playing baseball. But the greater lesson was how great it felt to be a part of a team. I didn't even care that my team lost every game; except for the one in which I didn't play.

Then there was ninth grade, when I was seriously close to failing geometry. The teacher sent home a pop quiz that I had flunked for my father to sign. His response: I'll sign it, but you ask that teacher if this material has a practical application upon life. I never asked my teacher, because I was too embarrassed. At the time, it was enough for me to know that if I was out of my league in certain subjects, my dad still believed that I was smarter than anything those subjects could teach me.

In high school, I was kind of effeminate, so other kids called me names. When I - ahem - cried about it, dad said that they were all jealous because I was so smart and good-looking. It turns out, I was so smart and good looking because I was gay.

And when I finally stopped crying, ten years later, and told The Colonel that I was gay, he said, I figured. There was no drama, though I probably deserved some, coming out on Thanksgiving Day. It couldn't have been anymore anticlimactic. For a second I felt like he'd said, Duh. But the next second, I realized that The Colonel and I had established a mutually respectful, adult relationship.

It is unclear whether dad knew what lessons I'd learn as he laid down his law, and I'm sure that he has even less an idea of how much of his belief system I have adopted as my own. But I feel now like we are both on the same team.

He's still got my back. And after all these years, I know how to get his back, even if he's not doing something right.

GORDON: Kevin R. Free is an actor and career coach living in New York City.

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