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DANIEL RIORDAN: Lessons from my 'Pops'

DANIEL RIORDAN: Lessons from my 'Pops'

This year Father's Day falls on what would have been my dad's 78th birthday. 

He passed away May 4, 2016. 

Like many father-son relationships, ours was complicated, often fractious and at times distant. 

My dad, or as I called him Pops, Edward "Ed" Riordan, was born and raised in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood on the far South Side of the city. 

His home was chaos as a kid with a father who was a heavy drinker. My grandfather would disappear for days at a time and when he was around was often a source of pain in his family's life. 

My father would graduate from Mendel Catholic High School before joining the Army. In the Army he was posted in postwar South Korea. After the Army, he joined the Chicago Police Department where he served as a patrolman for 28 years before retiring. 

He met my mom at a bar on St. Patrick's Day sometime in the mid '70s. Later, my mom would try and tell me they met at church. This I found odd since the only time I saw Pops step inside a church was for my first communion. 

Last year, my mom suffered a traumatic brain injury and doctors now believe she had Alzheimer's prior to that injury. 

Sharing memories of my dad is now a sore spot for her so sometimes I'll go through old photos by myself. I try my best to piece together time frames and context of those photos. 

And I try to remember the subtle lessons he would try to teach me. 

He was never the sort of parent who would sit me down for heartfelt talks about coming-of-age issues. 

His wisdom was often passed down through little phrases he was often fond of saying. 

'Never go to bed angry'

Pops never planned on getting married. I related a lot to this for most of my adult life. I don't think he planned on having kids either. But after he met my mom and got married, he adopted my brother from my mom's first marriage. Several years later I was born when he was 38. 

Nearing 40, I'm now engaged and "Papa" to my fiancee's 7-year-old son who I consider my own. Much like Pops, this wasn't my plan. So I'd often ignore him when he'd say "Never go to bed angry." 

That, he said, was a key to a good marriage. 

Resentments can build quickly. It's better to nip them in the bud before the grow and fester.

'Keep your stick on the ice'

He'd tell me this often. This is a hockey reference meaning to be ready for the puck at all times. You can't shoot, if your stick isn't on the ice. 

In his time as a police officer, he saw a lot. He told me very little about his time on the force. I got stories here and there and mostly when I was older. 

That experience I believe changed him as it would anyone. It stripped him of his faith in humanity. He often saw the worst in people or at least the potential for the worst. 

He wanted me to be ready for anything. Always be aware of my surroundings. I try to see the good in people but am always assessing each situation with heightened focus. 

'See it through'

Any time I'd complain about school or sports or life in general he'd often say this. When I was younger I just thought this was his way of saying "I don't want to be bothered with this."

But as I get older I realize how important it is to see things through. Especially the tough things. Quitting can quickly become a bad habit. Sometimes it's necessary, but too often it's used to avoid something difficult. 

Every situation, even the bad ones, can be an opportunity for learning and growth.

'Don't throw the first punch. Throw the last.'

This one I actually have an issue with. I think it speaks to a toxic masculinity often passed down from fathers to sons. We lived in a tough neighborhood in Chicago growing up. So I get where he was coming from. He wanted me to be able to take care of myself.  

Now I take that advice in a different way. In any given situation I don't act just to act. I observe what's going on before I respond. And when I do respond I've thought it through. 

He had a thousand more little aphorisms but I'll spare you for now. 

Pops and I rarely saw eye-to-eye. We had different world views. He didn't like my choice to become a journalist. He would later become proud if I earned recognition or got a job at a bigger paper but always thought I'd do something more lucrative. As someone who basically lived paycheck to paycheck his whole life, he wanted more financial and job security for me. 

Then there was the fact we were so alike in so many ways. I resented this for the longest time and it caused us to lock horns often. 

He could be moody and angry. He could be cold and aloof. Those are things I see in myself that I work on. 

Though not a huge fan of U2, I think of a song of theirs when I think of my relationship with Pops. 

In "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" Bono sings:

"We fight all the time
You and I, that's alright
We're the same soul
I don't need, I don't need to hear you say
That if we weren't so alike
You'd like me a whole lot more."
The song is about Bono's relationship with his father. It could easily describe my relationship with Pops. 
Relationships of any kind are difficult and messy. Especially those of fathers and sons. As I get older I realize that parenting is just imperfect people trying to raise an imperfect person. 
In the years since Pops passed I've come to terms with that. And I've also tried to use his example, in both what and what not to do, as well as his life lessons. 
This Father's Day if you're lucky enough to have a father or father figure in your life, may I suggest giving him a hug, sitting down and having a real conversation with him. Listen more than you speak. 
That's something I'd like to do. 

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