I call my dad Pa. Not Pop or Pops or even Pappa. Pa. This is something I’ve always done, because this is the name he was assigned when I was a kid and my parents were telling me the names for things. That’s your house. That’s your brother. That’s your Pa.
I’m told it came from the movie Flipper, which I don’t remember seeing but apparently involved a character — maybe the dolphin? — saying pa! pa! which my brother and I began imitating. My mom thought it was cute or funny and my dad didn’t protest and now I’m a full-grown man who calls his father Pa.
Pa is not a farmer or a cattle rancher or a man who looks like a Pa to anyone but my older brother and I. To most people, he looks like an executive and entrepreneur, which he’s been as long as I’ve known him. He used to bring us to his office when we were little and had to get stuff done on the weekends. We’d play hide and seek in the empty cubicles, photocopying our faces and hands and rolling around in his desk chair, pretending to be important and busy, like our Pa.
The first time I felt embarrassed calling him Pa was at a school science fair. I wanted to get his attention across the crowded gymnasium filled with poster boards and kids who called their fathers “dad”. With his back to me, he was deaf to my feeble attempt. Dad? The word felt strange as it left my mouth, like I was attempting a foreign language. Dad? Dad! Nothing. Pa?
He turned right around.
Pa loved computers before you could fit them in your pocket, when the home screen was jet black with a single line of bright green font, blinking what looked like 1980s hieroglyphs “C:\>_.” He knew they’d get smaller and faster and wanted to show us how to use them, and he did.
Pa also loved cameras, and he showed up for everything looking like a local news cameraman with a giant camcorder atop his shoulder, the kind that recorded directly onto a VHS tape. Soccer games, Little League, our living room. As we got bigger the cameras got smaller but he was always there, making sure he caught every moment.
Pa is also hilarious, and if I’m able to craft a joke, it’s because I grew up listening to him find the funny in most situations. He introduced me to irony and sarcasm and the art of the deadpan. He let us watch Monty Python and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and also Backdraft, which was not a comedy and was definitely not funny but it’s where I discovered Kurt Russell and dimples, so it was helpful in an entirely different department.
It’s not lost on me I’m now busy trying to make a career using computers and cameras and comedy, and when I told him my plans to head to LA to do all this, he thought it sounded like a great idea. We talk most Sundays now, catching up and swapping jokes, and he’s always excited to hear what I’m up to, always ready to offer advice or just laugh with me about this ridiculous life I’ve decided to lead.
In a world filled with dads, I feel so lucky now to have one of the only Pa’s. And when I win my first award, I can’t wait to get up to the podium, proudly lean into the microphone, and thank my Pa.