father of the year This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

October 4, 2012
By , Green Bay, WI
My father is not the father you’d typically pin-point as father of the year. We do not share the typical father-son relationship, and that’s okay with me. I am the son who was raised his daughter for sixteen long years, and he is the father who I blamed the divorce of my parents on. When I am loud and open, he is quiet and guarded. He could spend hours watching a football game and the mere idea of it makes me yawn. I have notebooks filled with poetry and he hasn’t written since high school, he tells me.

When you see us separate, you would not picture me as his son. He is tall and stocky – I am short and stubby. His hair is black, salted with grey, and mine is a chestnut brown I inherited from my mother. I have her personality – always willing to chat with a stranger and make new friends, while he prefers to be alone.

People never connect us as family when we are separate. But when we are together, you can see the similarity.

If you watch me eat, you will notice that I hit my fork on my teeth like he does. We prefer our hair the same way (longer on the top, buzzed on the side). I walk in my own queer imitation of his swagger. Even though we both deny it, we will never turn off an episode of Gilmore Girls when it’s on TV, and more than once we’ve seen each other cry at a particularly intense point.

My father taught me to be a man as I grew up, a little boy in girl’s clothing. I used his deodorant, instead of the flower-smelling stuff my mom bought me. When I started experimenting with my gender, I stole his boxers and wifebeaters and wore his ties and button-ups in secret. I scooped up the books he read, James Patterson and Tom Clooney, gobbled them up like candy. Before my first time alone with my girlfriend, I sprayed myself with his cologne, hoping the bottle held the secret to his confidence.

When I told him I was transgender, he was not surprised. He hugged me gruffly and told me that he loved me just the same.

My father can be forgetful – he does not remember things I tell him. I could remind him three thousand times that I have a meeting after school and he will still call and ask where I am. He stares at me blankly when I ask him for the keys, after he told me two days ago I could borrow the car tonight.

He knows that I am sensitive. His brothers would call me a sissy and razz me, but he tries his best to be understanding. He was a boy among boys, raised by a stubborn mother and a loving father. He knows that a comment that would not shake most people can bring me to tears.

My father tries to understand, but he struggles. The night my first real girlfriend broke up with me, he brought me ice cream and told me to “cheer up, bud.” He didn’t understand why getting me an etching set when I was trying to recover from self-injury wasn’t a good idea. He does not know how to calm me down when I am depressed.

Despite all of his failings, my father tries, and those resulting incidents are always interesting, sometimes funny, and sometimes heartwarming.

Since I was eight, I have had panic attacks. When my parents were married, I would show up in their room shaking and pale-faced and curl up between them. My mother has perfected the art of calming me down after a decade of attacks. She knows exactly what quiet voice to use, the words to say, when to hug, when to step back.

My father, however, does not, but not from lack of trying.

My father works from five in the morning to one pm. I try my hardest not to wake him up before four, since he doesn’t get all the sleep he should.

However, one morning around 3:30, I woke up in an utter panic attack. My lungs were fighting for air and I could hear my heartbeat in my head, the thump-thump-thump beating faster and faster. I woke him up, told him what was going on, and waited for him to react. He hadn’t witnessed one of my panic attacks since my first at eight, and was absolutely puzzled.

“Um… lay down in my bed, okay?” he said, getting up and hugging me awkwardly. (His hugs are always awkward, because his scruff feels funny against my face.) I obeyed, curling up in the blankets and quilt my grandmother made when I was younger.

I knew he had to leave, and he wasn’t able to stay with me forever, and I knew he did too. So he did the only thing he could think of.

“I’ll be right back, punk,” he muttered, heading out of the room with a determined step.

I laid there in silence, tears streaming down my face. I was positive I was going to die, that this attack would never end, that this would be the rest of my life.

He returned in a minute, holding my dog in the way he told us to never, ever hold her. I looked at him, befuddled, and he said, as though this was the obvious response, “Desi will help.”

He placed the slightly-overweight puppy on my side, and she curled into me, her head on my stomach.

“Not my typical response,” I thought, “But it’ll do.”

But, my father wasn’t done yet.

He then wandered into my sister’s room and opened the cage that held my guinea pigs. Groaning, he scooped up my black and white boy, Loki, and set him on my neck, where he nuzzled into my neck.

He smiled like he was the best parent in the world, and, despite my anxiety, I smiled back.

No, my dad isn’t your typical father of the year, but, despite his strange techniques, I have never felt that calm since.

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