He rose quickly up the ranks through an impressive series of promotions. As I understand it, he was considered something of an expert in developing programs. I know at one of the plants where he worked he faced a unionization vote. He took that personally and worked like hell and, in the end, the workers believed and trusted that he and the company had their backs. They voted down the union. (I’m not trying to start a pro-/anti-union debate here. I’m just pointing it out as an anecdotal example of how seriously my dad took his work and how good he was at it.)
He was firmly established at the executive level by the time he was my age. But by the time he was 50 he, his doctors and his company all agreed that multiple sclerosis is a complete f’ing jackass. Based on that consensus, they also agreed that the grind of Dad’s job wasn’t doing him any good in his fight against MS. So he “went on long-term disability” or “retired” or “was put out to pasture” or something like that. I don’t know what arrangements were worked out or what legal machinations were involved. “Leave that shit to the HR folks” – that’s what I always say.
We all go through stages that help to define us – even if it’s only defining ourselves in our own minds.
My dad was Tom, the hell-raising scourge of Pope county. (At least that’s the bill of goods he always tried to sell me when I was growing up.)
My dad was Tom, the academic black sheep of Saint John’s University. (Dad was the human personification of the old axiom: “He who fails to learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat it.”*)
Then he was Working Tom. And, as a result of that decision relating to his MS, he was only Working Tom for about 28 years. He’s 72 now. If you do the math (because I’m certainly not going to) you’ll find that means there’s some big number of years where he hasn’t been actively defined by his career.
Okay, I’m the furthest thing from a workaholic. And I still define myself, in large part, by my career. I don’t know how my dad defines himself. Dad, if it helps, I can think of two active roles right now that you’ve engaged in for a long time: husband and father.
I’m not going to get into evaluating Tom Skoog as a husband. But Dad, if you’re looking for elements around which to build your sense of identity (although I’m not sure how many 72-year-olds are actively building a sense of identity), I think you’ve got a totally valid claim on “father.”
My dad’s been a great dad, and I love him. Here are some things he wasn’t and things he was:
- He wasn’t “there for me at every event.” I remember him at a handful of soccer games. And I don’t recall him ever watching me play tennis. I was just fine with that. I was a pretty crappy player and probably wouldn’t have been that much fun to watch. Besides, I wasn’t doing those things to entertain him. I was doing those things because they were fun and I had friends on the teams.
- He was “there for me when I needed him.” When I did stupid shit, he’d rescue me. I remember running out of gas in our 1981 VW Rabbit Diesel (not a good idea with a diesel engine) and calling Dad sometime past midnight to come rescue me. He did. But let’s also note here that there was no touchy-feely promise of a safe-haven or a judgement-free zone or “no yelling till we’ve had a chance to sleep on it and cool off.” He was pissed off. There was never any confusion in my mind as to whether or not he was pissed off. He called me a dumbshit because that was clearly a dumbshit move. Duh.
- He wasn’t a dad who brought me with him everywhere he went and patiently taught me all the practical skills I would need in life. In both our defense though, I wasn’t that kid. I would have gotten bored and confused and frustrated if he’d tried to “educate me” every time he fixed the toaster. And, oh, I can just imagine the amount of bitching and whining I’d have done if he’d taken me along on every errand.
- He was a dad who patiently did his best to teach me life lessons. Usually through parables and anecdotes. (Yep, parables. He was just like Jesus, only a bit more profane.) “Greg, did I ever tell you the story about the frog?” (Lots of times.) “Greg, did I ever tell you about my very first girlfriend?” (Oh shit, this is going to be awkward.) “Greg, when I was your age, we had a neighbor with a great big dog. Meanest sunofabitch you ever met…” (Where’s he going with this one?) I remember at the time thinking that none of his stories were exactly a match for the situation I was in and that they weren’t particularly relevant or helpful. But I also remember giving him total credit at the time for trying. And I remember feeling better about my situation, just knowing that he cared enough to insert that not-quite-relevant story.
- He wasn’t the “ultimate sacrifice” dad. You know this guy, you read stories about him on Facebook all the time. He’s that selfless soul who gave up his dreams and worked three jobs and never had any fun at all, just so he could send his kids to Disneyworld and pay their way through Mount Holyoke. I’m so glad my dad was not this guy.
- He was a guy who (along with my mom) would go to dinner parties and get drunk with their friends. My dad would ride his bike over the hills to St. Helena on his own. He golfed as often as he could get out. My dad would uproot us every couple of years to move God knows where because it involved a chance to better his career (which he clearly didn’t know would end at 50). As a result, I have a well-rounded dad. I have a dad with hobbies and passions. I have a real dad. I have a great dad.
So Dad, if Mom’s reading this to you (cuz you can all be damned sure that my father is not sitting around on the internet, reading my blog), thank you. I saw, respected and appreciated the things you did for Christine and I. I love you!
*Okay, this is a joke. My father is a very intelligent man. And, while I’ve never seen his college transcript, I’m not aware that he ever failed any class in college – much less one in his major field of study. I just thought the “failing to learn the lessons of history” line was funny and wanted to work it in here!