My dad died when I was 14.
I was going to start eighth grade the next day. My mom and I were coming home from school shopping when she got the call.
I remember everything about that day. The smell of the new shoes I got. Noticing how much bigger I actually was than my mom when I hugged her. How ridiculously thirsty you get after crying a lot.
It was easily one of the worst days of my life.
Part of me wanted to write this column about how Father's Day doesn't get its fair shake stacked against other holidays, but that's not the point, really. The point is that having a father (or quality father figure) is something that should never be taken for granted.
Allow me to elaborate.
Losing my main male role model before the crapstorm that is high school and being too proud and scared to find a new one to teach me the ropes, I approached learning how to be a "real man" like you would approach taking a geometry test. Be it subscribing to Esquire at a young age or buying a bunch of books with titles like "How to be the Manliest Man Who has Ever Had Chest Hair," I did it all.
I wanted my dad to be there to tell me how to navigate my adolescent life, but he was gone. And my mom was at work. And there I was, alone.
So I started learning. I also started talking to everyone and haven't really stopped since. I started telling jokes because I was sad a lot and figured laughing was easier than being unhappy.
From learning how to be assertive when it comes to dating to how to tie a tie, I had to make do with what I had.
I learned some lessons quickly, but most took repeated knocks on the head. I learned that beer tasted nasty (until one day it didn't, thank God). And that in Chicago Heights, sometimes you have to fight your way out of a party.
I'm about to turn 27 and I'm still not all the way there. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I would pay anything to see my dad and talk to him for a few minutes. To pick his brain about girl issues and work and getting older.
I don't get that opportunity, but there are a lot of you who do. My advice: NEVER take that for granted. Go talk to your dad this weekend. Learn as much as you can. Buy him a gift. Just enjoy the time.
And do me a favor: Never buy that book about the chest hair thing. It really sucks.
ERNEST WILKINS IS CHICAGO'S WINGMAN. ERWILKINS@TRIBUNE.COM | @ERNESTWILKINS