We all remember that scene in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You know which one I’m talking about. Will’s father abandons him yet again. Uncle Phil is trying to calm Will down, and Will, in a broken-hearted rage, begins to list off all the things he’s done and will do without his father. He ends it by yelling, “TO HELL WITH HIM” before growing very silent. He begins to sniffle, trying to hold back the tears. He finally manages to stifle out, “How come he don’t want me, man?” as the dam breaks and he begins to sob. Uncle Phil rushes over to hug Will, and we end the episode with Will’s sobs heard in the background while we focus on this little statue that Will’s Dad brought to him as a peace offering.
Probably the most powerful episode of the TV series, and definitely the one we remember.
For me, it meant more than most.
I’ll never forget watching that episode live, and beginning to cry after it was over. I cried and cried and cried, seemingly for hours that night. Because I was Will. I felt the exact same way Will felt and it broke my heart to see it on TV.
I don’t talk a lot about my father, because quite honestly there’s not much to talk about. If you’ve ever seen my stand-up, you know that I share some stories about him to open my set up with. They’re honestly the only stories I have of my father, and in them I sort of make him out to be an Iranian Homer Simpson. When I get onstage and tell those stories, it’s the closest I feel to my Dad, even if it’s a heightened/fictional version of him.
Truth be told, a fictional version of my Dad is all I have. He and my Mom divorced when I was young, and then Dad went into the military. My first memory of him is when I was around 5 or 6 and he just magically appeared with a pile of clothes and toys for me. Like all boys, my Dad was my hero back then, even if we only saw each other once or twice a year. Soon, the visits became even farther apart. Soon, he would say he’s coming, and then he wouldn’t show up. I remember many a day where I stood in front of my grandparents’ gigantic bay window in the living room with tears streaming down my face because my Dad didn’t show up to come see me when he promised he would.
I went from the age of 6 to 14 without seeing my Dad. I made that choice. One day after waiting hours on him to show, I told my Mom that when he finally called to apologize, to tell him I didn’t want to see him anymore. I felt betrayed, probably the first time that ever happened to me. Your parents shouldn’t be the first people to break your heart, but here we are. He continued to send his child support most of the time, but besides that we had no contact. At 14, he either tracked some of my family down, or they ran into each other by chance I’m honestly not sure. Regardless, he gave them a present and told them how much he wanted to see me. So, I picked up the phone and called him for the first time in years. We would go on to see each other sporadically over the years. He’d come by and take me and a friend to lunch, he might buy me some clothes, and then he’d be gone for another six months to a year. When my Mom died, to his credit he was there, but he also made fun of how I was dressed. I was wearing a navy suit with one of my grandpa’s favorite ties. He said, “You’re dressed like an old man.” I had nothing to say to him, so I just walked away. I wouldn’t see him again for a year.
Over the years, my Dad would pop in and out of my life like a drifter. He would come to Vaudeville often to see me perform (he always wanted in for free. “I’m Derik’s Dad”, he would boastfully proclaim) but oftentimes we wouldn’t talk for months. He was in the military, and would sometimes have to go away on missions for months. When he would get back, he’d always call me and we’d do lunch. Then we wouldn’t see each other for months. He was kind of like acne: he’d pop up when you least expected it, and oftentimes at the worst times.
Our problem was we never got to know each other. When you only see and communicate with someone every 6 months or so, you never truly get to know them. We would make small talk for the hour we were together, we’d hug, and then we’d leave. We never asked each other about each other. It was always awkward, at least on my end, and I always wanted it to be over, oftentimes before it began. But when we would walk away from each other and go to our cars, I would get sad because I didn’t know when I’d see him again. He was my Dad, despite everything. I wanted to have a closer relationship with him, but neither of us knew how.
I used to be so angry at my Dad. Truth is, I still sort of am. Just like Will’s dad, mine missed everything. He didn’t teach me how to shave, he didn’t teach me how to ride a bike, he didn’t teach me how to be a gentleman, or to flirt with women, or anything. He missed all my school plays. He missed my graduation. He wasn’t there.
Why don’t he won’t me, man?
But about a year ago, I realized the blame goes both ways. I’m a stubborn dude, and once I’ve made my mind up it’s difficult to change. As I get older, I’m trying to let that go. But a long time ago, I decided my Dad wasn’t worth my time. If he wasn’t going to make the effort, neither am I. That was a stupid attitude to have.
I haven’t spoken to my Father in 4 years. He randomly showed up at the new Vaudeville location to see a show. He told me, “let’s get lunch tomorrow”, I said sure. I waited for him for over an hour, he never called or showed up. Suddenly, I was that little kid all over again in my grandparents’ house feeling unwanted and unloved.
A couple of times since then he’s used other people as his proxy to get in touch with me. Random numbers would text me and tell me he was in Chattanooga and that he wanted to see me. My thoughts were always, “Then why didn’t he just call me himself?”
It used to infuriate me when people would tell me I look like my father. It didn’t happen a lot as a child, but as I’m getting older, I see it. Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and see my father looking back at me. It startles me, damn near terrifies me. It’s so weird to see someone you don’t know looking back at you.
Why are you writing about this today? you might be asking. Because today is my Dad’s birthday. Sadly, I have no idea how old he is. I used to call him on his birthday and wish him a good one, but then he disconnected his phone. Like I said, 4 years. I wish we had a normal relationship. I wish he would have been like other dads. I wish we could have played catch together, went to movies and stuff together. When I lost my Mom, I really felt like I lost both my parents because he was such a non factor in my life.
Then I feel guilty because I know some of you don’t have your Dads anymore. I feel like a schmuck because if I tried hard enough I could talk to my Dad. Part of me is scared to. Part of me just stopped trying. Part of me says it’s not worth it, because the same things would happen.
I wrote all of this to say this: Happy Birthday, Dad. If you ever see this, I hope you have a Happy Birthday and I hope you’re well. I’m good, too. I’m sorry that we never really were Father and Son, but thank you for everything you did for me. I’m good. I’ve held a lot of resentment towards you, and for that I’m sorry. I just want you to be happy and healthy.
If you’re close with your father, maybe give him a call. Just call to tell him you love him. Then be thankful that you had a father who was there and took care of you.
Above all else, be thankful you could never relate to that episode of the Fresh Prince.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you