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June 13, 2011

Tom McAllister: Father(s) and Son All Grown Up

Posted by Anonymous
Tom McAllister’s debut, Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly, is pretty self-explanatory. Tom shared his love of sports, and of Philly, with his now deceased father, and this memoir serves as a coming-of-age tale many can relate to. Below, Tom discusses the joys of forming adult relationships with parents, and reflects on both his father, whom he misses, and his father-in-law, who has made Tom feel like his very own son. 
Photo of Tom sandwiched between his father-in-law and his wife.
pic smaller 1.jpgOne of the primary rewards for surviving adolescence is that you get to form real adult relationships with your parents. As you move out, get married, acquire a mortgage, and generally mature, you can relate to your parents in ways you never have before. You can have a beer with them and talk to them like real people, and they feel more comfortable revealing themselves to you, filling you in on previously unshared personal histories. They want to hear your stories. They begin to ask you for advice.
I'm closer to my mother now than I've ever been, but I never had that opportunity to bond my father as an adult. He died eight years ago, when I was a junior in college. Cancer, details too familiar to recount. Years of bad judgment and various personal failures followed.
We were close, and I respected him while he supported me and imbued me with enduring loves for reading, writing, and football. But I was only beginning to really know him, late in his life, when he, probably sensing or at least fearing his impending death, recounted stories from his past. When he let me drink a beer with him even though I was underage, and we talked casually as if we'd been pals rather than occasional adversaries throughout high school and college.
So I obviously miss him on Father's Day, but am fortunate that that day has been salvaged for me. Because one thing I've done right over the past decade is I got married to a supernaturally supportive and compassionate and forgiving woman, and in the process of building our shared life, I've become a part of her extended family. Instead of sulking and wallowing in sadness because my father is gone while so many other families get to enjoy Father's Day in the presence of three or even four generations of fathers, I still have reason for celebration.
I met my wife in college, and her father worked on campus. He's an extraordinarily large man, bear-like, and he could have used his size to intimidate me, abused his access to spy, pushed me out of his daughter's life. But instead he bought me lunch. He sent me birthday cards. He invited me to his apartment on holidays.
cover.jpgAfter college, after my father's death, after I'd finished grad school, after my wife and I moved to South Jersey, about twenty minutes from his apartment, we grew closer than ever, and he revealed himself to be the absolute ideal of fathering-in-law.
During the five years since that move, I've gotten to know him as well as anybody in my life, first when he spent long days at our house patiently teaching me how to spackle holes in drywall or helping me to assemble furniture following incomprehensible instruction guides, and later when we spent summer nights on my deck swapping stories over drinks, and here's what I can say with certainty about who he is: he's generous beyond belief, patient and attentive, and impressively uncynical, to a degree that embarrasses me a bit. Or, simplified: I've learned endless things from him, from the concrete (literally) to the abstract, and I have fun when we're together. Or, even more simplified: he's a good man, a good person, a good friend, and what more can you ask from anyone, let alone a father-in-law?
Not long after the move to New Jersey, he started referring to me as “one of the kids,” along with his son, his stepson, and their girlfriends. No one ever told him he had to fill a void for me, and he never expressed resentment for what I suspect is my obvious need for his advice and perspective. Instead, he told my wife I could start calling him Dad if I wanted to. I haven't done it, not because of any flaw on his part, but because I still feel I owe it to my father to let him keep that title. Still, sad as I am not to have my dad in my life, I know how lucky I've been to have gained a new surrogate father in my adulthood. Every year, it's with pride and gratitude that I spend Father's Day with him, because I know I have to embrace this second opportunity to be a son to a loving father.