Thus far in the countdown it has been pretty straight forward to reminisce, recall fond memories, tell some less than flattering stories about people I haven't seen in 20 years , express some regret that ultimately dissipates "in the grand scheme of things," and let my inferiority complex run rampant as I state the qualities of individuals I aspire to, but will never equal.
That formula doesn't strike the right tone for people with whom I have regular contact and share DNA. And at this point I am down to my nuclear family. Begrudging admiration for a no-nonsense teacher or a tough-as-nails coach seems appropriate. It is not the sentiment I want to engender towards my family. Gratitude is.
Aging and birthdays walk hand in hand with reflection, and reflection can spur regret. But that isn't really the sentiment I want to convey either. Also as the day approaches, I am counting the days and feeling older. That makes for a more somber attitude than the glory day reminiscing earlier in the countdown when my birthday was still months away.
When it comes to my family, I have few if any regrets. I have no complaints. I feel blessed beyond measure. But when I do sit back and look at my family, I do have this strong feeling of just "wishing things were different." I find myself raging against reality as I try to write this. The aspect of my life that I cherish most is my family, and that means it's also the place I have had the highest hopes and expectations. This birthday, as all birthdays ultimately do, forces me to accept life for what it is, not what I want it to be. And nowhere is that more apparent than with my dad.
In the the spring of 2016 I had the honor of presenting the Mark Stephen Daltoso Memorial Scholarship at my former High school. In my presentation I explained to the student body and assembled faculty members that my parents had both graduated from DeSales in 1974, which made them two of the first students Mr. Michel’s had ever had. I went on to tell them about my dad’s years of community service work, and his dedication and belief in the mission of Walla Walla Catholic Schools. To emphasize this point I shared a story implying that he wrote. A letter to the school that may or may not have persuaded them to fire a nun. I then clarified the selection criteria that specified career aspiration n mathematics to include computer science on the justification that my dad had had to explain to his grandpa Mario, who had promised to pay him for A’s in math, that classes on his report card like calculus and trigonometry were in fact math classes. I then made jokes about nepotism as I awarded the scholarship to my cousin Max, telling him how his uncle Mark was looking down on him with pride from above.
I think that 5 minute presentation provided an accurate biographical sketch and honestly there isn’t much more I would say to describe my dad.
There are 2 things that stand out most when I think of my dad.
The first thing I remember most about my dad was his senses of humor. My dad was funny. I can remeber him preparing for soem kind of office party/retreat that he was essentially roasting the partners and him preparing and practicing at the kitchen table with my mom watching. He had the classic shtick of a comic on the Tonight Show: PG material never dirty, clean cut/wears a jacket and tie, never pandering for a laugh, always leaves you wanting more. There was definitely a Jerry Seinfeld/David Brenner vibe to my father. I mean don't get me wrong, it was often dad humor reminiscent of Danny Tanner on Full House, because he was obviously a father, but he was different from other "funny Dads" in that he never went full Bob Saget. He never resorted to fart jokes or "I got your nose," "Let me pull a quarter out of your ear" type stuff. He wasn't loud and gregarious and laughing all the time.
And that brings me to the 2nd thing I remember most about my dad. He was perfect. Unblemished. At leas that was the reputation that preceded him. It started with my grandparents and aunts and uncles who universally declare, he never got in trouble. He always did what he was told to do without arguing. He was a straight A student all through school. I don't know that he ever even got a speeding ticket.
He was always a class act. Always dignified. As straight of an arrow as they come. He was an accountant for goodness sake. Universally lauded for the work he did at work, at church, and in the community. I always thought my dad would end up running for political office someday, but he always said he would never do that because he would not want his family to have to face the scrutiny of the public eye.
WelI my dad is not perfect because no one is perfect and I always new that, and my dad always new that. Perfection is probably the wrong world. More like pure or unbeguiled. His reputation was still up on such a high pedestal that it was more of a myth or a legend than an actual expectation. Still, I did feel pressure to try and live up to the standard that was set. And from that standpoint the influence my dad had on me was that it is possible to be perceived as nearly flawless. My dad appeared to be riding a wave of support from people who all believed, not that he could do no wrong, or that he could not fail, but that he would never fall prey to temptation. He could be fallible but he would fix quickly any incidental mistake. He was trying to live up to that standard. And that made me believe that it was possible to live up to that standard. I tried but often failed to live up to the legend of my father.
And the thing is, I wanted the legend to be true. I was proud of my father and wanted him to be proud of me. So I do think I kept him up on the pedestal in my own mind. And that made made it hard for me to be close to him.
It only happened 2 or 3 times growing up but one of my favorite weekends of the year growing up was this massive “no mon’s allowed “ dads and kids camping trip we would go on up at Kerlew Lake in northeastern WA. And it wasn’t even really the camping I looked forward to, just the car ride. It was one of the few times in my life that I knew I would get 5 or 6 hours of my dads attention while riding shotgun on the drive up and back. Those were some of the few times I felt I had my dad’s undecided attention and he was down off the pedestal with me.
Another “moment” I recall with my dad was in my senior year of high school as I was struggling to come back from an ankle injury that never really healed, my physical therapist told me to get special orthotics. So my dad took me to Scotty Cummins Athletic Supply to get them. While there I made a half-hearted argument that I could use a new pair of Air Jordan’s for the ankle support. Now my dad had always been of the opinion that the cost of basketball shoes was excessively and prohibitively expensive (he had played in Canvas top Converse All-Stars after all), so when he consented and bought me my first pair of Air Jordan's on the spot, it was really meaningful. I think he kind of calculated that was likely the last pair of basketball shoes he would every have to buy me so “what the hell.”
Even as a little kid I always tried to make my dad laugh. I would come up with something funny I think my dad would appreciate. And again, it wasn’t like I had a knock knock joke to tell. My dad was a Tonight Show stand up, so that meant a 10 year old kid is trying to make savvy political commentary about things he doesn’t understand, and just copying the tone and sentiment of the adults around him. So I am in the back seat of the car make loud laugh sounds trying to induce my dad to say “what is so funny?” Only he knows exactly what I am doing and doesn’t take the bait.
I remember one time talking to my friend’s dad, about the fantastically politically charged topic of Rodney King. I attempted to echo my dad’s sentiments on the topic thinking I would sound pretty grown up. Well my friend’s dad had a different view of the situation. I learned a lot about the world in that moment.
I know my dad loved me. I think if he were alive today to see his grandsons and be with his family he would be very proud. But I do believe he had a degree of consternation over the state of his first born son in the final months of his life. That does both me a lot. He had seemed so proud of me when I graduated from WSU. While I was up in Pullman I didn’t see the condition he was in everyday. So in my mind I defaulted back to the classic dad I grew up with. On the phone his voice was the same as always and I pictured him as he had always been. I remember how jarring it was to see him and my mom when they visited for moms weekend one time. For the first time in my life my parents looked old. At that time they were only a few years older than I am now. They hadn’t been telling me much, but it was clear that the stress of managing my dad’s health was taking a toll on both of them.
Well, when I came home after graduation, as related in another post, I had super secret plans that I wasn’t telling anyone. Even if dad had been fully healthy, I would have feared his reaction to my plans. But in my silence I just kind of became a bum. And I do worry that was the final impression I left on my father.
I remember when my mom was pregnant with my baby sister Jaly, and my parents were trying to come up with names. My dad was all in on Christina Marie. He liked the name Christina and felt that “Marie” was the only middle name that flowed following Christina. It’s obvious it’s Roman Catholic popularity only made it seem all the more ideal to him. My mom had been pushing the Name Jordan Michelle, which I was a fan of for obvious reasons. But Michelle was already my sister Stephanie’s middle name. So when my dad called us kids at grandma’s house to say we had a new baby sister, she was still nameless at the time. It took a full 15 hours to finally agree on Jaclyn Christine Daltoso.
Well when I got married in 2005, my dad at last had a daughter named Christina Marie Daltoso. Kind of the last gift I was able to give him. Unfortunately it was short lived. He passed away a month later.
It's probably only natural that I would feel disappointment towards my relationship with my dad as his health failed just at the point where we could begin to relate “man to man” instead of just as parent-child. But I also have similar feelings toward my relationship with my mom.
Not surprisingly, I never had any kind of a “Birds and the Bees“ conversation with my dad. I manufactured one with my mom when I was 14, just to let her know that “I knew already” in an attempt to stave off having to have that conversation with either of them. When I was about 11 or 12, my mom had sort of tried to have that conversation in a car ride across town up Poplar street just as we were passing the fire station on the right and the Worm farm on the left. I wasn’t having it. I played dumb for as long as possible, but poplar is like the longest street in town and this drive just kept going and going. Ultimately just shut down and refused to continue the conversation. My mom’s attempt had come about after a conversation she had had with my aunt Karen wondering what exactly I knew since I clearly was very aware of Magic Johnson and HIV. But other than that I never really had any conversations about such matters with my parents.
In the truest sense of influences, my mom, more than any other person has shaped my morals and values. I am essentially a pacifist. Combined with my propensity for avoidance it tends to be a bit of a problem. But my disdain for violence as entertainment is a direct result of my mother’s influence. Growing up I wasn’t given a lot of guns as toys. That’s all they had for toys in the 80’s, dolls, my little pony, and easy ales ovens for girls, and action figures, and guns for boys. The few squirt guns we did play with always game with the mandatory pronouncement “do no t point it at people.” It was my mom who turned me on to MacGyver, who didn’t use guns.
Also my mom forbade me from playing violent video games. Especially any that appeared to sanction violence against women. That’s right. Because there were characters that appeared to be female in games like Double Dragon, my mom said I could not play them. When all of us cousins were playing Nintendo at a family Christmas gathering, she went to far as to tell my my uncles in front of the whole family that her sons were not to play any games where there was any violence against female characters because her sons know “you do not hit girls.” That led to more than once that my uncles would send me out of the room when they were watching a boxing match or a movie that they said “Your mother wouldn’t want you to watch this.” So obviously my family knew she meant business. That kind of public demonstration of how seriously she took the matter left the desired impression on me. Naturally she also forbid me from playing games like Mortal Combat as I got older, and the thing was, I didn’t even want to play them. I found them dumb and off-putting. I have never played first person shooter game like Halo or Call of Duty. I don’t even like something most people find innocent enough like Super Smash Brothers. Many would argue that the inclusion of Princess Preach and other female characters in these games is inline with the feminist agenda promoting equality of the sexes. Women can do everything just as well if not better than men. And my mom would probably agree with that, and then supersede it, because my mom had no compunctions stating unequivocally to me: “Women are better than men because women can have babies.”
Now this is a situation where a 39 year old man is examining strong formational experiences from when he was around 7 years old. It’s entirely possible that I have misquoted in recalling events from over 30 years ago. The point is, this is how I remember it, because of the immense influence and profound effect it has had on me. I wonder if I will ever impart my values to my sons with the kind of courage and surety that my mom did with me?
My mom was the office secretary or "receptionist" at my high school. I never really liked that. It wasn't like I really minded having her at school. I wasn't embarrassed by my mom in any way. And honestly it was kind of convenient to have her there to ask for lunch money when I needed it. All my friends liked my mom and wanted to be office aids to work with her.
But you have to understand that while I was a Student, school was something to complete. To get it over with. It was a place to do great things that get documented in yearbooks and trophy cases, and then be done with and move on from. And I applied that same mentality to my mom working there. I felt my mom had so much more potential to do more and different things in her life. Of course, that is not fair for me to say. I have long hated when people stated I have potential because I felt it was a meaningless comment along the lines of "you never know, anything can happen." Then one day at my 9th grade school conferences, Mr. Cox pointed out that having potential actually means you are an "Underachiever" because you have the ability to be better than you currently are. I bring this up because my mom and I were kind of having an argument at conferences after talking to Mrs. Ruthven in whose class I was not "living up to my potential" and that argument kind of spilled over into talking to Mr. Cox. Mr. Cox's answer both validated my disdain of the term potential and simultaneously proved my mom's point that I absolutely could be doing better in English and needed to work harder.
In a way I am jealous of my mom. The place she feels inexplicably connected to is Walla Walla catholic schools. That is her family . That is her home. That is the place she feels needed. She has a great sense of belonging. And why not? She went there. Her children went there. The school and the church has dominated her social and civic life for the last 50 years! Hell, there was an alumni sign with our family name on it that hung in the Desales gym for 20 years. It's now in my mom's house. She has worked at DeSales for over 25 years, partly out of devotion and loyalty, and partly out of practicality. I have always tended to look at that as my mom either doubting herself or somehow self-sabotaging, because I have always believed she could do more and have more of a career. Even as a kid I remember my mom was the school board secretary and working on fundraisers or events with other kids' moms. Her attitude was always "I am here to help, so just tell me what I can do." She was never "the boss" or the person in charge. She never really contributed her ideas or ran the show. And that was hard for me to accept because obviously at home, she was the boss, and the person in charge and she ran the show at home. Why didn't she do the same outside of home?
The answer is because my mom understands and appreciates being a part of something. I know even these days she gets frustrated with her job like anyone does at times, but it's kind of like when you get mad at your kids. You may wish temporarily that you could send them halfway across the world in a crate with air holes as my wife and I discussed last night after our 2-year-old took off his diaper to pee on the kitchen floor, but it's fleeting. Only now as a parent and an adult to fully appreciate my mom’s conscious choices to put service and cooperation ahead of ego and prestige. My mom is a lynchpin and she recognizes it, even if others forget it sometimes.
My mom carved out a life in Walla Walla with roots so deep that they can't be cut in spite of or maybe because of the loss of my dad. She has a place where she belongs. A community. A legacy.
For years now I have been plotting and scheming to try and get in a position where I would move my mom in with us as a family and I just have not been able to get all the pieces to line up. It's been hard because how do I complete with "belonging?" I mean grandkids is a pretty good counter argument, but not quite enough to go all in on over belonging.
The truth is at this point in my life all I am really seeking is that same sense of belonging that my mom has. In my more self-indulgent moments I crank up some Linkin Park and get a good cry on while contemplating "Somewhere I belong."
I can specifically remember getting sick and my mother feeling sentimental and I taking full advantage got her to read the Hobbit to me as I lay in bed, a la the Princess Bride. It is strange to think now because I specifically remember listening to a bunch of gangster rap earlier that day and was mostly preoccupied with this girl I had a crush on at school who hated my guts, and somehow my mommy reading me the Hobbit that day made me feel a lot better. I wrote in the He-Man post that my preference for podcasts and audio books goes back to listening to my tape player as a kid. And then I attributed that tape player's existence to my dad's "Redneck VCR". But to be honest it obviously goes back further than that to my parents reading to me as a child. I specifically remember waiting for my dad to get home from work so he could read to me before bed time. He generally would fall asleep while doing so. He memorized all my favorite books so he could read them to me with his eyes closed. I would knee him in the crotch every single time climbing on his lap. Obviously, my mom would read to me during the day. One of my earliest memories is of reaching up on a book shelf at the top of the stairs to grab a book and then falling down the stairs.
My parents were the "It couple of the 70's." (I hate that I am using the "It" cliche. Makes me think of Kate Hudson every single time, but I used the metaphor with my grandparents so I might as well use it with my parents now). They met in high school after my mom was "The new girl" who moved to town from across the country. My dad's best friend "Moose" (not mouse, not Finnbar) actually asked her out first but dad ended up winning her over. They were high school sweethearts. They were Prom King and Queen. They ended up going to college together. He proposed in Pioneer park. Then they got married at St Francis Church. Then they had 4 children. 2 boys and 2 girls. They really were the perfect American Dream/Family/Romance. To prove it, our family was even chosen to pose in a Special Christmas newspaper Circular because of how perfect, balanced, symmetrical it was.
As far as the entire family is concerned my dad only ever dated one person, my mother. Mom on the other hand would occasionally tell us stories about other boys she dated in junior high. I don't remember any of these stories. I don't think I wanted to hear them in the first place. But I don't recall my ears bleeding. (Gee my mom liked to tell unsolicited stories from when she was in 7th grade that don't really seem to be relevant now but she sure enjoyed telling them. I wonder if any of her children do that, online, in a crappy blog, with Thunk in the title.) I always felt the idea that my dad fell in love at first sight with the new girl at school was sweet and romantic, and possibly a pre-ordained miracle and just the way love should be. It turned out to be a bit of an impossible standard to live up to. Unfortunately, I was not as smooth with the ladies as my father had been and I had to wait until after college to find myself a woman with whom to spend the rest of my life.
So the upshot off all of this doesn’t really need to be repeated, but I will say it anyway. I was never super close to the other of my parents. Much of that was due to my own avoidance. I always wanted my parents to be proud of me. I generally felt that they were and maybe I just didn’t want to jeopardize that with letting them in on what was going on behind the curtain. I do think that in a sense I learned that from them. My dad would often reply “you don’t need to know that” when I asked questions that touched on our family financial situation or my parents relationship or his work. He was trying to keep me free from the pressures of the adult world so that I could just focus on being a kid. I guess maybe I was trying to protect my parents from being burdened by my petty childhood concerns. But now that I have my own sons I can see it doesn’t work that way.
Overall I can’t complain about my parents or my upbringing at all. I always felt loved and cherished. In someways it was ideal. And I guess that much of my “wanting things to be different” is really just me looking at the idyllic aspect and comparing all the average parts and lamenting “why can’t everything be that perfect.”