We asked men to describe their fathers in two words. This is what they said.
“Vodka and charm.”
Nick Flynn, poet, playwright, and author.
“Compassionate and Botox. Wait, let’s replace Botox with awesome.”
Tom Riles, comedian.
Andrew Seibert, president of SmartMoney.
Duncan Roy, filmmaker and Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew star.
Sewell Chan, journalist.
“Brave and loving. I need to elaborate. My father suffered a paralyzing stroke when my mother was pregnant with me in 1959. She already had four other young children at home, and his illness was a major impact on the entire family. I grew up watching him work hard all his life, despite his paralysis, loving and providing for his family.”
Michael Angley, author.
“Brilliant and ineffectual (and sadly, departed).”
Alan Poul, director/producer.
David Carr, author and journalist.
“Here’s what I’m going to say. I’m going to do more than two words, I’m sorry. But my dad is generous, honest, kind, principled, direct—but he’s an asshole. And it in some ways is a redeeming grace, because if he [had] all those virtues and was also just a nice guy all the time, he’d be perfect. He is a paragon of all that is best in a man, and yet a complete jerk at the same time.”
Rev. John Finley IV, founder of the Epiphany School in Boston.
Joe McGinniss, author and journalist.
Stafford Arima, theater director.
“Eccentric and honest. He’s definitely eccentric—to give you one example, he’s very proud of his world record for the most number of footnotes in a law review article. It was his Mt. Everest: 4,281. But more impressive to me, is that he’s honest. To the extreme. Whenever we’re on a road trip, he refuses to pull over at any old Holiday Inn or McDonald’s to use the bathroom. Not unless we buy something. Otherwise, he says, we’d be stealing their soap and paper towels. So our bladders may be fuller, but our conscience is spotless.”
A.J. Jacobs, author.
John C. Abell, journalist.
“Charisma and character. He had a crowded, loving funeral. I met so many people that day who I’d never seen before; people whose lives had been touched by him. The parking lot was overflowing. It made it easier for me in a way, as grieving him became, unexpectedly, a communal experience. And even though he died when I was 16 he left me with lessons that have been good company my whole life.”
Alexander Chee, novelist.
Ben Corman, creative director of Rudius Media.
Randy Strauss, EMT.
“I’ll give you two pairs of contradictions: warm/explosive and fun/depressive. What can I say? He was loving, and he drank.”
Gordon Wheeler, CEO, Esalen Institute.
“Tough. Caring. He’s a great dad, but of course I didn’t always think that when I was 16 and he was trying to get me not to act like an idiot.”
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern University head football coach.
“Oh, wow. My dad. My dad is… he’s… wow. I’m trying to come up with the two that best describe him. I would say the two words would be…wow, this is… do people have a hard time with this? My dad is sweet and pragmatic. My dad was my high school principal. It sucked.”
Jeffrey Zaslow, journalist and author.
“Determined, tough, and compassionate.”
Josh Kraft, CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Boston. His father is Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.
“Casual and guarded.”
Tertulien Thomas, Jr., actor and model.
“Despair and alone.”
Robb Braun, motivational speaker.
Steve Scalzi, director of basketball operations, Northeastern University.
J. Stephen Hicks, photographer.
Kenneth Hughes, actor and producer.
Tim Berry, founder and president, Palo Alto Software.
“I don’t know if can do it in a couple of words. He was a typical World War II guy—never said anything about his whole deal over there and didn’t really talk about himself, about anything really. He just went to work, raised kids, and tried to do the right thing. Basically he was a barber. That was his main deal, being a barber. I used to go to his shop when I was a kid and watch all the men play checkers and listen to them talk about theirfamilies and politics and baseball. He got a Purple Heart because the enemy blew his jeep up one time. He just happened to jump out of it in time. When he came home from the war, instead of going to college on the GI Bill, he decided he had to go to work. He got married and had kids right away and went to work.”
Dave Cowens, NBA Hall of Famer.
Michael Kamber, photojournalist.
Tom Junod, writer.
UPDATE: Since Tom Matlack first posted this column, scores of people have joined in to describe their own dads in two words. It became a meme on Twitter (#MyDadin2Words), a discussion on Facebook, hit the front of HuffPo, and is showing up in search results all over. Thanks to all who participated — we’ve compiled over 100 more answers below. (You can view right from here, or sign into Scribd if you want to download the PDF.)
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