There's a not-especially-good movie from the 1990s starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt called The Devil's Own, about a young IRA operative (Pitt) who comes to New York and stays at the home of an unknowing NYC cop (Ford). You can read the wikipedia page if you want to learn more about the movie's main plot. What stayed with me about the movie was the subplot wherein the two characters begin to develop a father-son kind of relationship.
The Pitt character saw his father gunned down in Ireland years before, while the Ford character has three or four daughters but no sons. There is a scene where the two of them hang out at a bar, and it's like you might imagine a father and adult son might do if they liked each other and got along and had some stuff in common.
I have a kinda sorta proxy dad of my own: my boss from a few positions ago. I learned a lot from him, and he was a mentor like I've never had before. My success and growth in that position was due in large part of the environment that he fostered, to the connections he helped forge within the organization. I had to leave the organization (on the best possible terms) for a variety of reasons, but part of me didn't want to leave at all because I wanted to keep working with him. But he, I think, had the idea that I was destined for bigger and better, and kind of pushed me out of the house (or nest?), so to speak.
It's a few years later now, but we still see each other every few months, though usually as part of a bigger group get-together. Part of me always feels like I should be doing something more to facilitate this relationship. But the truth of the matter is that my proxy dad, by his own design, has many other professional "kids" (not to mention a few actual biological children) to keep tabs on.
Proxy Dad can still be a very good sounding board for issues within the professional realm. Proxy Dad might also be a good person to talk with about certain personal issues - like his thoughts on fatherhood - but I haven't hit him up that way.
He does, however, also say some stuff that strikes me as off. And when he does this, I find myself simultaneously wanting to correct what I view as his misperceptions and questioning whether it is worth it to try to do so. I want Proxy Dad to know and like the real me, and I don't want him to think I'm "set for life" or "can write my own ticket" or other such phrases and don't need his further concern. Short of winning the lottery, no professional situation (even my current situation, which I'm enjoying) makes me "set for life." But he's got a story about the way things are that doesn't always match the truth.
For instance, there is his long-standing insistence that he would try to hire me back, but that he "can't afford" me. I just don't know what to make of that. I certainly want to be paid what I am worth, and one of the reasons I had to leave the organization where we worked together was that I was being chronically underpaid (and he couldn't do anything about it at the time). But he seems to think everyone makes more money than he does. He thinks I do, and I definitely do not (though I make a lot more than I did when we worked together). We were out with a department chair from a state university once, and Proxy Dad also seemed to think that this guy made more money than he does, which is nuts. Lately I'm starting to think that, when he says he "can't afford" me, maybe he's referring to more than just money. He must be.
Then there was the incident a little while back when I was profiled in a local magazine. It was just a short piece in the back of the magazine, in their "people" section (a section that runs in every issue), about my move to my current organization. It was organized by the media person at my organization, and - while it was certainly nice - it was at least as much about the organization as it was about me.
However, the issue I was featured in was devoted to "D.C. political movers-and-shakers." Proxy Dad, who is a savvy, smart, and generally very shrewd man and has been immersed in D.C. culture for decades (so, in other words, should know better!), saw the magazine and then either willfully or carelessly decided that the magazine had pronounced me one of D.C.'s top movers-and-shakers. He then forwarded the piece on to a fair number of people, proclaiming it so. Some of those people then sent me their (baffled? I hope) congratulations.
Now, the idea that I am one of D.C.'s top movers-and-shakers is of course patently ridiculous. The magazine's actual list included members of Congress, powerful lobbyists, heads of think tanks, etc. Not only am I not a political mover-and-shaker, but my desire to ever become one is quite low. Indeed, even in my day-to-day staff work, I pass on the political stuff as much as possible. I want to be a substance provider, not a mover-and-shaker. And substance providers don't get special sections of magazines devoted to them. He knows this.
I tried clarifying the situation to some of the people who wrote to me individually. I saw others at a happy hour and told them the deal. But it is a lot of work to have to go around and fix this kind of thing with everyone, and in many cases - unless the person said something to me about it - I simply didn't bother.
I know that - to this day - Proxy Dad seems to honestly and genuinely believe I am one of that magazine's movers-and-shakers. It fits with his internal narrative about me, one that reality doesn't seem to more than nudge a few inches. I've never been able to raise it with him directly.
My wife says, "He's a dad and he likes to brag." And I like that he's proud of my accomplishments. I just wish he was proud of my actual accomplishments and not some weird misunderstanding.
Oh, Proxy Dad. I love you, man. I wish we could spend more time together. But you can be just as exasperating as a real dad sometimes.