My father is not a pretender.
He is, at his very core, exactly who he is and who he's always been. This is not to say he is not also warm, open minded, funny, and caring. He is all of these things and many more.
What I speak of instead is his comfort in his own skin. I have never in my life, seen my father try to act cooler than he really is. Any time my father has pretended to be some kind of cool it has always been with tongue in cheek. He knows who he is.
It's a fact that I never realized or fully appreciated until now. A fact that hit me heavily mainly because I have spent almost my entire life trying (fantastically unsuccessfully) to be cooler than I actually am.
I've always tried too hard, to make people laugh, to impress people, to convince people of whatever I might be obsessing over at the time.
I'm not sure where this comes from. It could be an insatiable appetite for more. It certainly doesn't come from my father.
My father is defined by many things, some of the most prevalent traits are his preparedness, his ability to provide at all costs, and his ability to appear comfortable in nearly every situation.
This last one has always impressed me most. Whether it was walking down the center aisle as we went to find seats in church, or when I'd come in from having fallen off my bike with bloody knees. In retrospect I realize there were many times when he had no idea what he was doing but I, my sister, and possibly my mother were none the wiser.
The time he led me sled down the hill head first into a chain link fence.
The time he was driving and we ran out of gas and were able to coast into a gas station.
The time he and I showed up for our flight home from my first college visit the day after it departed.
And so on and so forth.
My point is, things always worked out in the end.
Of course he wasnt James Dean all the time when I was growing up. He lost his cool. I got yelled, I got punished and and grounded. But outside of our home, anywhere he was no matter what he was wearing, he was himself.
If he was in a shirt and tie like when he would come to my basketball games immediately after work, he looked so comfortable that kids on my team started spreading rumors that a scout was in the stands.
Naturally, because scouts always come to 8th grade basketball games in the suburbs.
And he was himself when he had enough time to change into his casual clothes, like when he would come to my baseball games in his "older wiser sexier" t-shirt and homemade cut off jean shorts.
Cool is a relative term.
Especially for a man who frequently altered his outfit (out of weather driven necessity) with pieces from of a collection of items he kept in the trunk of his car. This was something we teased him for endlessly, at least I did... until I started a similar collection in my own trunk.
As the saying goes, "The turd doesn't fall far from the bird."
Clothing be damned, regardless of what my father wore or wears, he was and is always himself:
Engaged personable and present.
I always noticed what he wore and when, since he was the one who taught me about getting dressed up and grooming. But I didn't really understand the man inside the clothes, his being himself. It was something that, while I observed, I never really noticed.
I'm 29 now and I can't believe I'm realizing this for the first time.
I find it fascinating since more often than I'd like to believe, who I am and how I behave is tied to what I wear, how I feel about myself, and other environmental factors. I'd like to believe this means I have some cosmic connectedness with the universe that helps me interpret the zeitgest of the situation, but really, I think it means I'm still discovering who I am inside.
My father's general coolness was most impressive when he wasn't around anybody else.
We would be in the car together with some loud obnoxious BMW blasting music and vibrating at a red light next to us and I would be transfixed while he would be completely uninterested unaware or just unaffected. Possibly all three.
That's not to say he didn't and doesn't notice things. He notices things. Many things. The amount of people in the restaurant. The changes in the house across the street. Haircuts new shirts etc. he is aware. Which is perhaps why I am so impressed by his ability to remain unsomethinged by the inconsequential things around him that I obsess over.
Perhaps it is a function of age as my father was 38 when I was born, and in his 40s by the time I was old enough to really start paying attention.
But even when I look back at the old pictures of my father, from the times in his life where he had a mustache, wore a turtleneck, and briefly (I hope) a neckerchief, I can't possibly imagine him trying to be something other than what he was.
Part of me wants to believe it's a generational thing. That back then you had a job, a family, and a personality that was your identity that you stuck with.
Logic tells me that can't be true though.
People have wanted to be something other than who they felt they were for as long as people have existed. It is one of the driving reasons of the incredible and the tragic elements in our lives.
And even though his surroundings may have changed, where he lived, and what he wore, I don't think the core of Fred Boehmcke has changed very much, if at all.
And when you are who he is, it doesn't get much cooler than that.