Thursday, February 28, 2008

Emails with Dad

I have always looked up to my dad, literally. And up until recently as his poor knees have given way to years of asphalt and hard work, just figuratively. Today we sort of see eye to eye, even though my vision of him has grown to larger than life proportions. To this day I can’t imagine him than anything other than my boyhood super hero that could do anything conceivable. He is a giant in my eyes and a giant he will stay.

I’m the youngest of four. My two older sisters and brother are spread out across the country leaving their roots back home in New Hampshire. It’s only fitting that the one thing that has connected us all back to dad has been the internet. Many have praised the internet for its advancement of research, international commerce and other things. For my family, the simplest of all devices that it provides is a means to get unfiltered, earnest and inspirational advice whenever we desire from dad.

Most of the time I can picture him in his office typing back to me among the clutter of ‘real work,’ he has. If you were to ask him though, he’d probably tell you that he was doing real work by responding back to our little requests on how to cook our turkey or questions regarding what’s wrong with our cars? To him, just because we are many miles away from home in separate directions, does not mean that he has ever stopped being dad. Along with all of the titles people have given him throughout the years, dad will always be my favorite, since I know only four of us are afforded that privilege.

Reading his emails never get old. No matter how many times I’ve read a particular one or how busy I am. I marvel at the man behind these sometimes poetic and sometimes misspelled emails to the point of incomprehension. In a different life he may have been a writer himself but for my family, he’s just dad. For a man who had spent so many years in kitchens and on construction sites, an eloquent thought or suggestion might be the last thing some people might predict. Nevertheless his advice is timeless as the man behind the monitor. Often I feel like a judge listening to one of his well argued cases. Others, I feel like a son listening to just a few choice words from dad. Better yet, I feel like one of his students listening to one of his profound lectures which require no “reply.” Incidentally, he has sort of become a de facto teacher for me in many respects. These are his lessons.

My father has given me a lot of encouragement and advice throughout the years, most of it solicited and most recently over the computer. A decade ago he would never even have even considered using such impersonal correspondence. Amidst piles and piles of not filed yet organized-by his standards- documents, he was unable to comprehend anything beyond turning on his computer and using the word processor which by the way he has told me would have reduced his workload immensely with footnoting when he was in college using a typewriter. One day, a colleague of his must have introduced him to this phenomenon of emailing which he insists must be done IN ALL CAPS. My sisters and I tell him that in the cyber world that symbolizes “yelling,” but he refuses to give in. Sometimes I think it’s just because he is really that enthusiastic all of the time and then others I think maybe he’s just too lazy to hit the caps lock button and/or pay attention to grammar.


Only up until a few years ago, did he actually stop overbearing all of us with forwards. Some might think of it naiveté or flat out ignorance but I knew of the problem as a syndrome I call “honest Jim.” The man truly believed the person who wrote “Now send this to 11 people within the next 5 minutes.” Out of respect to the karma gods he made sure we would find bliss. These forwards came from the same guy who goes down in history as the worst “Malarkey” player known to man. The object of the game is to convince others that you know the definition of the word given by lying. Good ole’ honest Jim never did get past the first word of his ill-derived sentence before breaking up in hysteric laughter. Needless to say, we don’t play that game anymore, despite the fact that half of the fun was just watching him try to save face. My younger sister by the way is great at it…


Since I went away to college, I found myself in front of the computer more hours than I care to admit to. In the middle of my studying, web surfing and chatting with my roommate who would often be in the same room as me, I also found time to email my Dad on a constant basis. Boy, was I glad I did. I’ve never stopped since.

Calling my dad was easy and as much as hearing his voice meant the world to me, I always felt like I was taking up too much of his time. Now, being so far away from home with the time difference and all, I find the task even harder to keep track of. Once and a while I’ll get the occasional letter except even then I object. His letters usually contain bills that have been inadvertently forwarded back home or news articles highlighting my friends accomplishments (yellow highlighter included). Thankfully, he leaves out the friends in the police logs. Whatever is inside these most of the time meaningless envelopes, the most important is written on a small tear away of legal paper, reading “Love you much….Dad.”


He insists of scribbling in big bold letters as if forever frozen in an email “LT JOSHUA CARROLL, USAF,” across the envelop. It used to embarrass me, not because his penmanship was so childlike that it looked like my nephew wrote it and because it was so illegible that it ran a close second to his computer skills, but rather due to the pride that I know he feels writing every bit of that line. I haven’t told him that the title is completely unnecessary yet and I’ll probably wait until he and my grandmother are in the same room so that I can tell them both “thanks but no thanks.”

Visits from Dad are the greatest. I can barely resist showing him off to my friends. Over the years, I’ve become much more humble but have substituted that self envy with an infatuation of my hero. (To those who read my blog, you can attest to the several references in each post…he’s simply what brings me my inspiration). When he first drove me to college for the first time with my stuff in the bed of his big red truck and my mom and I packed like sardines in the front cab, I could recall wishing both he and my Mom could somehow find something useful to study and stay in my dorm room with me. Not only would my dad be a useful editor for papers I thought but with my mom cooking and cleaning…why I might be the most popular kid on campus.

As we entered, I was one of about 100 or so people arriving that day since I had decided to play football. I remember my identity crisis as I packed my Deion-like doo rag but sided against pulling it out of my gym bag once I looked around and saw the guys that I’d be playing with (black guys more worthy and seasoned in doing so). I was indeed out of my element asking myself “what the hell did you get yourself into,” as my 250 pound roommate just stared at me while probably asking himself if I had mistaken football camp with computer camp. In any event, my mom fussed around insisting I put everything away while asking me inappropriate questions like “did you pack enough underwear,” and when I hesitated with my reply of “yes,” she demanded that I pull them out to show her. Meanwhile my dad acted as the savior as I remember him saying “it’s time to go now mom,” with such certitude as if to tell me that it was all up to me, my decisions, actions and consequences. He had done his job raising me, he was confident and proud. My mom looked up from stowing away the soda we had just bought from Wal-Mart and obliged.


I would see my dad often that year and the following 3 years after that. Every Saturday he was committed to coming to every game, home or away. His fandom prompted a question from several of the guys one game in mid October with sleet and rain pounding the field with few in the stands willing to subject themselves to the harsh conditions, “whose that whacky guy who rode his motorcycle all the out here in the pouring rain?” “Oh, that’s just my dad,” I replied shyly. With no resemblance, some of my sideline buddies chuckled until my roommate saved me and said “no that really is, he comes to all of the games.”

Yes, rain or even snow from NH to Long Island and beyond, my father was a faithful fan of the guy who saw less playing time than the little kid that they recruit before games that runs on the field to grab the tee after kickoff. I once told him how much it meant to me for him to be there, to which he simply replied “trust me those games mean much more to me.” He would later tell me once I played my last game that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with himself on Saturday afternoons since he so looked forward to those fall drives to my campus and beyond. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I couldn’t have had him cheer for me more. Instead, he cheered for my friends and the team. He kept up with the happenings around the league and was so thrilled that I had befriended some of his favorite players. I once took him to hear Chris Matthews speak (they went to Holy Cross together) and after my friend who was doing work study pulled our ticket as we walked in, my dad asked if that was who he thought that was. He told me that he loved watching him play. At that moment I couldn’t have been more happy for my dad or my friend.

Lots of people got to know my dad either from him willing to sit next to anybody (girlfriends, drunken friends/fans, parents, you name it). By my senior year you could hear people yelling from across the field after games “Hey Mr. Carroll!!!” I readily admit he overshadows me and even during my football career he seemed to take more of the spotlight. Towards the last home games he would bring my nephew to sit alongside him. I could hear “83! 83! (pronounced eightee free, eightee free). After the game he always wanted to wear my helmet and since I figured someone ought to have that privilege for that day, I would give him that and my shoulder pads as well. I couldn’t help but watch my dad’s eyes as he looked at him almost as if imagining that one day he’d be able to go back and see him play.

*This post is part of an undetermined series dedicated to this particular topic. (To be continued...)


Anonymous said...

What a terrific tribute to your Dad.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful recognition to your father.
I'm almost certain that Mr.Carroll is just as proud as you are proud to have him as your father. Every sons/daugthers should be as grateful to their fathers as you are.