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When you meet my dad, the first thing you'll notice is that he's a big Italian dude — the kind of guy who prided himself on scaring away all my potential boyfriends in high school. And while you won’t immediately be able to tell that, despite this tough exterior, he once hand-sewed a pair of overalls for the family dog and owns the first Adele CD, you will without a doubt notice the spider tattoo on his neck.
Which, I should add, he got in his late fifties. He also has “Dave” tattooed on his bicep (surprise, his name is Dave), which, the story goes, he did himself when he was 14 years old with a needle, thread, and Indian ink.
These are two great tattoos, but my favorite is the one I also have: a snake wrestling a panther. His is so old that it’s turned a color of green that only happens to tattoos that were done at least three or four decades ago, but mine is relatively new. When I asked him recently for the story about why he got it, he responded via text: “I’m the Panther. Your mother is the snake trying to choke me. LOL.” The real reason is that he just liked it.
I got this tattoo when I was in my mid-20s, years and years after my father got his. I already had a handful of others, but I had wanted this one for a while — maybe even before I got my first tattoo at 17. (He was the legal guardian that I brought along to sign the paperwork, but also because bringing your dad who’s okay with it along to a tattoo shop felt, well, kind of awesome. While my other friends were sneaking tramp stamps, I was [conspicuously] sneaking cigarettes from my dad, who, if you haven’t guessed by now, is a heavy smoker — all part of his charm.)
I wanted it on my upper arm — the same spot as his — but it didn’t fit, so I got it on my thigh instead. I think when I showed it to him, he said “pretty cool,” and not much more.
Making the decision to get the same tattoo as my dad is something that feels like it never officially happened, in the same way that couples who have been together forever — like my parents — don’t actually decide they’re going to get married; they just set a date. There was always a part of me growing up that knew I would eventually get this tattoo, it was just a matter of when.
Technically, we have two tattoos in common: The spider on his neck is a reference to me. When I was a kid, I was dorkily skinny. I played basketball, and when I was on the court, I would flail my arms and legs (it’s called DEFENSE, Dad) so much so that I resembled a frantic insect. He’s called me Spider ever since. And I actually don’t call him Dad — I call him Chubby (he is saved in my phone as such) because when I was a kid, his most distinct feature to me was his big, round belly. I debated getting “Chubby” in the same font as his “Dave” one, but if you’re going to get the same tattoo as your father, it should be the one of the snake wrestling a panther, if that’s an option.
My dad and I joke around a lot with each other, and though we say “love you” whenever we text, talk on the phone, or see each other in person, we’re not super emotional with each other in the way that comes naturally with my mom. He and I are both similar in that we’re only mushy when provoked. We prefer to watch TV on the couch when we’re together, and sometimes talk to the dog — not the overalls one, who went to live on a farm in the sky — more than we talk to each other.
So getting this tattoo was a way for me to say a lot of the things I usually don’t. The stuff that’s implied but not often articulated. Like, I love you, a lot — enough to commit to this crazy tattoo and tell this story to strangers forever.