Column: The closest thing to a superhero

SDN Editor Ryan Phillips (left) stands with his father Dale Phillips and brother Brad Phillips in April. (Family photo)

If you got to know me beyond the words you see under my name every day, you may not like what you find.

For starters, I can be a know-it-all. My attitude skews more to the selfish side and patience is far removed from my short list of tightly-held virtues.

In no way am I bashing myself - I’m just letting you know what you’re working with.

One man knows all too well the frustration tied to dealing with my volatile personality and no one else in this hellish world has the tenderness and steady hand to talk sense into me when that volatility comes to the surface.

That man is my father: Dale Phillips.

If you met him now, you would never know he spent nearly three decades with a gun on his hip and a badge sewn to his shirt. I’ve seen the fearlessness in the same blue eyes I inherited and the compassion in his heart that I so desperately wish to mimic.

When I was a child I feared for him on the job. As an angsty teenager my feelings bordered at times on resentment being the son of a lawman. But as an adult, the only thing that compares to the love I have for him is the esteem I hold him in.

The respect for my dad - or “pop” as I often call him - doesn’t come from some grandiose view of him as a gun-toting symbol of law and order or as a Croc-wearing pontoon boat captain that still hands me a $20 bill here and there when we both know I don’t need it. Rather, it comes from hindsight.

More times than I could possibly remember, I saw that same badge and smiling face standing on the other side of the chainlink backstop at the baseball park or sitting up on the concrete stands during a Friday night football game.

He taught me how to shoot a gun and hit a golf ball, but most importantly he taught me that being a man doesn’t mean being the toughest guy at the bar or being the best at something. I learned from him that being a man means giving it a full effort and learning from your mistakes.

He didn’t need a cape, X-ray vision or a weakness to Kryptonite to be a superhero to me. The tall buildings he leapt over were the challenges of being a working father and the villains he fought were the self-doubts and insecurities of two young boys coming into manhood. If we ever fell, his hand could always be counted on to reach down and pull us up.

I don’t know what I did to deserve such support and to this day am convinced that I’m not worthy of living in his shadow.

He worked long hours - along with my amazing mama - to put food on the table and to give me and my brother Brad the life they thought we deserved.

He didn’t have to come to all those ballgames. His hard work was plenty for any son with an ounce of respect to count themselves lucky … but still he was there. Always supportive, always encouraging, but never once allowing me to quit on myself.

I refuse to get into - what I consider fascinating - details of his law enforcement heroics, which include being a homicide investigator and unit commander, because to focus on that would truly short-change his Herculean feats of fatherly strength and love.

The best example came one Christmas that was long enough ago I couldn’t tell you how old I was. I would have been in my early teenage years and that Christmas saw me and my brother get an Xbox - much to our elation.

Along with the console, we were given a college football video game to share. Here’s where the selfishness on my part comes in.

In my hasty excitement, I rushed to position the console how I saw fit, setting it up on its side in the living room floor in what I thought was a trendy way. After inserting the disc, the positioning of the machine cut a perfect circle into the reflective aluminum on the bottom of the disc, rendering it unreadable by the machine.

I could have been called a soft-headed screwup and told I would have to replace it out of my own pocket. But all be damned if my dad didn’t nod his head decisively, venture out into the December cold and drive 20 minutes into town on Christmas Eve to buy what I am still convinced to be the only CD repair kit in town.

I played that silly game until the sun cracked through the windows on Christmas morning and I don’t recollect thanking him for it until I was well into adulthood.

I could eat up dozens more column inches singing the praises of a man more fit for a stained glass window than a seat on the Northport Planning and Zoning Commission, but I will save those precious memories for another time.

For now, I just want to wish the greatest man I’ve ever known a Happy Father’s Day.

I love you Pop.