Today is February 2, Groundhog Day in the USA. This day only means something to me because it's the birthday of my father, the late Alan Davenport Harris. He would have been 84 years old today, but he passed away from cancer in May 1986 at the age of 57 when I was 16.
My dad was my hero and my role model. The very first awareness I had of 'lifting weights' came from him. In our dark, dusty, moldy basement, he used to sit on an old chair with the stuffing falling out of it and do concentration curls with an adjustable dumbbell whose rusty plates had more or less fused together. It was 52 pounds - I know because I weighed it one time. The plates were a little loose and jangled as he did his reps. When I heard that sound as a little kid, I would run down those rickety basement stairs (this house was literally close to falling apart) to watch my dad lift weights. I'm pretty sure he only knew how to do that one exercise and never thought to do anything else. To me, he was the strongest man in the world.
What did I learn from my dad? For one thing, I am sure I never would have become a writer if I hadn't had a love for reading that I picked up from him. My father hardly watched any TV. He would turn on the news around the time the weather report came on, then turn it off once he'd seen the forecast. When he wasn't working, he was usually reading. Dad went through two or three books a week, mostly non-fiction. Wanting to be like him, I somehow managed to teach myself how to read at the age of three. Though this didn't turn out to be quite the indicator of future genius that some predicted it was (I am a bright guy, but far from a genius), nonetheless it started me off on a literary path in life. Anyone who wants to be a reader needs to do two things - read a lot, and write a lot.
Another thing I got from my father was his work ethic. Even though he held two degrees - Accounting from Bentley College and Teaching from Tufts - he spent only a brief time working in a bank and never taught. Not having the greatest interpersonal or communication skills, he wound up delivering mail for the US Post Office Monday through Saturday and driving a cab on Sunday. When he'd met my mother, she already had five children from her first marriage. Me and my younger brother Steve made seven. My mom stayed home, so dad had a great deal of responsibility and never shirked it. While I get to stay inside my comfy home and work, my dad was out walking ten miles a day in all kinds of weather, from sub-zero snowy winter days to sickeningly humid Massachusetts summers. Never once did I hear him complain.
Watching him, I learned that a man takes care of and provides for his family, first and foremost.
In many ways I am very different from my father. He was quiet and avoided any attention or recognition, and in fact was very introverted. I seem to have better communication skills in general, though I think that's just different personalities. Dad never got to see me go to college, get married, become a father myself, and go on to this career I have now in the bodybuilding industry. Sometimes I wonder if he would have really understood what I do completely and what he would think of me. I know he would have loved his grandchildren, both my son and daughter and Steve's.
Losing him so young definitely changed me and the way I looked at mortality in general. I learned no one lives forever, at least in terms of our physical bodies. Once I became a father, I made it my goal to be around for my kids as long as possible. Unlike my father, I go to the doctor on a regular basis and don't hesitate to make an appointment if anything seems remotely strange. I will never know if my dad might have lived longer if he hadn't ignored the terrible internal pains he had for many months and caught the cancer much earlier, though I suspect he might have. But even so, none of us ever knows how long we have left here on earth. I plan on being around for many more years, but at the same time I try to treat every day as if it may be my last.
You can consider that morbid, or you can say that it's a great way to keep things in perspective so you appreciate what you have and the people you love.
Regardless, I just wanted to say Happy Birthday to my dad. Thanks for everything you gave me and all you taught me by example. See you and Ma on the other side someday.