Dad and I have always had quite the…relationship. (See, “Bully For You, Dad”). We’ve had many (many)…differences of opinion. But there is more to that, as well. I consider him one of the strongest (he was certainly the most forceful!) influences in my life. Yes, that is both good and bad. It’s one thing to look in the mirror one day and see your mother, but it is quite anotherthing to think something and hear your father! (At least for me!) My brother (who bears an extremely strong resemblance to Dad) is well aware of the fact that every time he makes a face that looks like a ‘Dad face’ I want to slap him!
He was one of the two ‘scary’ dads in our neighborhood growing up. In spite of that, all the kids still came to our parties. I remember one in particular (I think my sisters and I were maybe 16, 15 and 14) where all of us were dancing to the jukebox in the living room (see “I(Re)Write the Songs”) and my father comes out of the bedroom and there is a drink spilled on the floor and one cupcake has fallen off the counter, leaving a smeared trail of frosting on the side of the cabinet. Dad walked right up to the jukebox and shut it down, mid-song. Then, in his best drill-instructor voice, barked at us how we were NOT to trash the place and gave us five minutes to take care of business or else “the party was over!” You’ve never seen almost 40 kids rush to clean up two little spills that fast in your life!
He gave the best lectures (and so many!). There was a specific way to do everything (the toilet paper roll gets put on with the loose end ON TOP), and there were specific reasons why (it puts it more within reach). He always took the time to explain why in great detail. We didn’t walk around on the rugs barefoot because the oils from your skin make the rug dirtier than with your shoes or socks, therefore making it harder to clean (and THAT was the reason you never drew pictures in the fog on car windows!).
Punishment was manual labor and public humiliation. I got a D on my report card and had to build a landscaping wall in front of the house with cinder blocks Dad told everyone, “My daughter loves me SO much that she spelled DAD on her report card!”
A particularly fun argument came about when my mother’s answer to a problem was “I guess that’s my cross to bear,” and Dad responded with, “If you stepped in shit would you scrape it off or leave it there and say, ‘I guess that’s my cross to bear.’”? (He has a way with words, don’t’cha think?)
His favorite lecture had to do with making sure you got a good education so that you didn’t end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of your life. After my parents’ divorced and we moved out of the neighborhood, my father was out mowing the lawn and two of my friends made the mistake of stopping to talk to him and asking how I was. I got a call from one of them later saying he kept them there for two hours and that the “moral of the story” was “Hold the pickles”! Yup, that’s my Dad.
I get my warped sense of humor from him (you can all thank him now). When I was a teenager and had started to look a little more mature (I said “look”) I walked into a crowded restaurant with him and he yelled “Oh, no! There’s my wife!” and ducked behind me. Then there was the time my new stepbrother and stepsister met him for one of the first times and he decided to break the ice over dinner by shoving his face in my stepbrother’s plate and inhaling the food.
He had a habit of answering the phone in that DI voice of his. I would notice that his voice grew softer and friendlier if the call was for him, but it would NEVER change if it was one of MY friends. I questioned him on this and his answer was, “That’s because I want your Hero-friends to know that they will NOT pull the same shit with me that they pull with their own parents!” He called all of us “Heroes”. I’m not sure that was a good thing. Ha!
All that aside, I have many, many wonderful memories with him (and hopefully that many more to come), and I’ve learned so many valuable things from him.
I posted this on Facebook today: “I have a very visual image in my head of when I was younger and we lived in Cambridge. I was 3 and/or 4 (it happened many nights). I’d wake up in the middle of the night (SEE? I’ve always been a night owl!) and go out in the parlor. Dad would be there, sitting in the middle of the floor with a record player on the floor in front of him, 45’s strewn all around him. After yelling, “WATCH YOUR STEP!” he would let me make my way VERY CAREFULLY to the couch and listen to the music with him. I loved those nights.”
Those nights were the best. He would talk to me about the music, as if I were older. I loved sharing music with him. As a family any car trip involved music and singing, and we would all try to out-do each other. Any song with one strong, high or loud note sung in it was the most fun (“She’s Gone”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, etc.) He even took us out in his ’67 Oldsmobile 442 for a few “night cruises” and we’d listen to music. (That’s where I get that from!) And he would take us out to a special record store in Dedham and we’d each be able to pick out a few 45’s. I remember how much he loved “Rock Me, Amadeus”. We tortured him with that one!
I try to make sure I call him and tell him every time I realize he was right about something. That happened a lot more after I became a parent! Here’s something I haven’t told him yet, and it comes to me a lot. One “silly” little lesson he taught me was awareness. And it came out in the simplest of lessons, on the simplest of subjects: He told us when approaching any corner (and he was talking initially about when we were walking down a street, or in a store, or running) to keep in mind that somebody could be coming from that direction. How simple is that? And how huge is that? To be aware of other people. Yes, when I’m walking down a sidewalk I now slow down and keep a wide berth at corners and intersections, and when I’m driving it helps keep me defensive (not offensive—that happens when I see someone driving who is unaware!), but it goes so much further than that. Think about it. Awareness of other people. I won’t get all preachy about it, but think how many “collisions” could be avoided if we were more aware of each other.
Thank you for that, Dad. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.
(N.B. I can also thank him for my perfect driving record, because we three girls were given “car classes” and had to learn how a car worked before we were even allowed behind the wheel and because “HIS daughters would NOT be “women drivers”!)