Sunday, December 16, 2018
Family Life

My Dad, David Lawniczak

Dominick and Dad (David Lawniczak)I don’t think I’ve ever lied about my relationship with my dad. It was tumultuous, to say the least. He and I had what I’d like to call a love-hate relationship, though at times we’d pretend it was mostly hate. I do recall saying I hated him, on more than one occasion, but a lot of it was because I felt hurt. At times, I thought he didn’t love me. Growing up changes your perspective on your parents, a lot.

My dad wasn’t the friendliest of guys. He was grumpy. He slammed the drawers on the cupboards. He swore and screamed at the television. He would get so angry he would shake. I knew how to push all his buttons and he mine. In many ways, I see how I’ve adopted some of his habits, especially yelling at the television when my team is losing and losing my cool relatively easily.

Davey, as I often called my dad, when I wasn’t calling him stupid or some other childish name, passed away eight years ago today. I have moved on and I don’t feel pain at his death, or regret about our failed relationship anymore. I’ve made my peace with my dad, and I’ve realized, he’d be more likely to accept me, as I am, then any of my other relatives, because deep down, that’s the kind of guy that he was. Sure, we’d fight, but I found, perhaps a little too late, that in the end, he had my back.

My dad and I did get along well, if we were on our own. Yes, this did happen. In fact, we spent the morning together (he took me to the doctor) the day he had the first of his four heart attacks. When he was sick, we talked on the phone every day.

Unless you knew my dad, you probably wouldn’t know he was deaf. Our phone conversations often consisted of him yelling “what?!” into the receiver and then eventually him asking the nurse to tell him what I said. I called him every day, but the day he died. I had two finals and a meeting that day, so by the time I got home it was 7 or 8 PM. Exhausted, I got into bed early that night, only to get out to head back to Toledo because he’d died.

My dad was a funny guy, in retrospect. We shared a love for music, obscure television shows, and sports. He was a rampant Ohio State Buckeyes fan. What started out as preteen rebellion grew into my longstanding love for the Michigan Wolverines. He would get so mad if my Wolverines won and I would gloat ceaselessly causing him to not talk to me for the day. Of course, if his Bucks managed a win (rare in the 90s), I never heard the end of it, either.

My dad was born to Polish speaking, first generation Polish Americans. He grew up speaking Polish and also could sing in Latin (something I assume he picked up at the Polish neighborhood/Catholic church he attended for church and school). Sometimes, when he’d take me to places alone, mainly events for MDA or when he took me to the Polish festival, he’d sing songs.

I assume they were church songs because they were in Polish and Latin. Despite being deaf and requiring the use of hearing aids, my dad had a nice, deep singing voice. When I’d ask him to teach me, he’d insist he didn’t know anything worth teaching. This was very frustrating, as I found my heritage quite intriguing. In the end, he would teach me how to count to three (how exciting) and I learned a few different swear words (like dupa – which he sometimes would call me in those early mornings when he woke me up for school – I’m sure he was joking, of course).

My dad showed he loved me in ways I never realized when I was growing up. They weren’t outright displays of affection, because I often thought he didn’t love me. For example, when I was little, I often had Vicks smeared over my chest and back. I hated Vicks. It’d make my skin burn and I remember crying because it hurt to wear it. My dad would hold me on his lap and it was one of the few times since I was a baby I’d let him hold me.

He also caught a fly ball for me during a NY Yankees/Cleveland Indians game. He later admitted it hurt like heck as the ball bruised his side from the impact of being hit so hard, but he wrestled it from a man who tried to snatch it from him, telling the guy it was for me. Of course, no man wants to look like a fool and take a ball from a kid in a wheelchair. My dad also took care of me when I got sick during that trip to Cleveland, too. He didn’t do anything but clean me up and tell me it’d be okay. He didn’t even say we had to go home. He let me stay and enjoy the game because afterwards I’d “felt better”.

I never realized until he was dying that all these things he did, these small things showed he loved me. It took me quite a few years of guilt-ridden shame to accept we’d made our peace before he died and to forgive myself for all the mean things I’d done to him. I know he forgives me though and I know he’s in a better place, free of pain and sickness.

Today, I don’t feel the guilt, the pain or the sadness I felt. I can finally say I have moved on. I will miss Davey Lawniczak and I will never forget him, but I know he’s on another plane of existence watching over me and encouraging me to scream at the television with him, whenever my favorite teams play.

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2 Comments

  1. Dominick,

    I was really touched by the honesty and genuineness in describing your relationship with your dad. He was lucky to have you as a son.

    Lately, I’ve been struggling with what it means to forgive in my own personal journey. To me, it’s amazing how much we can learn when others share from their life stories, even if it’s on a blog.

    I found it interesting. I learned just a couple of years ago that my first adoptive father was from a first=generation polish family. Don’t know why there had to be so many secrets and lies and that we as his children couldn’t even know that about him.

    Thanks for being you!

    JoAnne (Tenderheartjb on Twitter)

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Dominick
Dominick is a director/filmmaker, activist, writer, advocate, FTM transman from the Midwest who lives in New York. Follow his film career and join his weekly Twitter chat on film and disability by following #FilmDis. He received his BFA in Film Production in 2014.