I saw you the other day... in me... through the eyes of my son.
To a kid, it doesn't matter that his or her father has his own name, that he still feels like a kid from time to time--let alone that he even WAS a kid. To a kid, Dad isn't a man on his own life's journey. He's Dadda... then Daddy... then Dad (that transition is jarring... I remember the time each of the kids dropped the "dy" for the first time)... then it spirals into Pop, The Old Man, and who knows what else. Kids define Dad by his title.
I defined you by your title. Probably for too long. And too harshly.
Now I'M the Dad. And there's something you should know. I've navigated every step by your vapor trail.
NO ONE did "Dad" better than you. No. One. I've given your talks, done your goofy humor, I've even subjected the kids to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass while making their pancakes on a Saturday morning while Mommy is sleeping in.
That's where I find you now. In being my version of you.
Here's where I saw you on a recent Tuesday morning.
I always wanted you to take me to work. And on weekends rambling around in your car, I used to wonder what it would be like to stow away in the back seat on your way to work. I'd sit there--back seat, passenger side--and ask the car to give up your secrets: "What does he look like on the way to work?" "What does he do?" "Does he listen to the radio?" "Does he stop for coffee?"
What does Dad look like when he's not being Dad??
On Tuesday, I took my son to work with me. Changing lanes, I caught a glimpse of the 9-year old. There he was--back seat, passenger side.. Watching me. Asking the car to give up my secrets. We did the grand tour: the coffee shop, Imus in the Morning, traffic reports on News Radio 88, and then I played one of the CDs he brought along.
He came with a backpack loaded with a Gameboy, CDs, the book he has to read for school... and they went home untouched. I had lots of letters I'd saved up to work on, keeping a light workload, and asked if he wanted to proofread them for me. So I dropped a punctuation mark or two... missed a capital letter... and watched him catch them with the same aplomb he uses fielding grounders or shagging flies. It was glorious! At nighttime, he recounted every minute to his Mom, who played it back to me. I really don't know which one of us had more fun.
Actually, I do.
I finally got to go to work with Dad--through the eyes of a 9-year old, from the back seat, passenger side.
And it was fun.
If I'm off to a good start, it's because of you. And I hope that however long it takes, when the eyes that behold me are sharper... when the stakes are higher... when tests are harder, the kids will have a Daddy they remember... and a man they love regardless of what they call him (or how often).
But maybe that's the price. Maybe that's the risk a Dad has to take to do it right. Like you did for us.
Aww, Dad. Happy Father's Day.
(The illustrations here were found at www.kevincannon.org when I Googled "dad driving" on a whim. This man is very talented.)
... but just who the F*** are "they," anyway?? Best I can guess is that "They" might be a group like the guys who write Man Law??
To wit: They always say...
Look both ways before crossing the street. What if you're on a One-Way street?? Isn't looking both ways a waste?? Can you substitute Up and Down for the unneeded Left or Right?? I almost broke an ankle on a curb because I wasted a sidelong look in the wrong direction and didn't save it up for the downward glance.
Don't go swimming until an hour after you eat. I used to think this was from a bunch of lazy lifeguards, but now I know it probably did come from parents, but not for the kids' safety. This dawned on me when I used it on the kids over Memorial Day so I could have a Corona after finishing dinner.
A watched pot never boils. Actually, this one is true.
It's always darkest before the dawn. Probably written by someone on a Walk of Shame.
You can't go home anymore. Probably written by the same guy.
Before baristas, energy futures traders, online auction consultants, and pet psychologists roamed the Earth, what were the great jobs to have?? Here are two that just don't exist anymore, that must have been cool:
Think about it. They're all taken. Main Streets, Oak Streets, Elm Streets. Must've been either people with a tree fetish, or NO imagination (1st Street, 2nd Street). I totally get Broadway, but just who exactly are all the King Streets named after, anyway?? King George? King Kong? King Vitaman?? [King Vitaman, incidentally, and Captain Crunch, will SHRED the roof of your mouth. You have been warned.] And what's the deal with Boulevard and Avenue?? A sign-maker who charged by the letter?? That would explain the names of two roads near where I live. "Upper Grassy Hill Road" and "Hoop Hole Hill Road."
Nowadays, only the purveyors of suburban sprawl get to name their new cul-de-sacs, and they've got NO imagination whatsoever! They either name the roads after their daughters, or try to sound British, like "Wintonbury Court."
State Line Makers
Now THIS is a lost art! And very reflective of differing abilities, hostilities, and geometric approaches--yes, geometric, not geographic. I'll explain.
Cubist: Wyoming, Colorado.
Left-right brained: Texas. Linear on the western side, groovy on the north and east borders.
Unable to swim (or lazy): The folks who stopped at the water's edge. See Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont, New Hampshire. And how about the team assigned to map westward from Montana to Idaho. "Well, we started out good and straight, but look at those mountains, Charlie! Aw screw it, find a river, draw a line, and just fill in the rest."
Vengeful (or drunk): No other way to describe the infamous Soutwick Jog/Granby Notch between Massachusetts and Connecticut, and Michgan's Upper Peninsula, perched atop Wisconsin. Clearly someone wanted to keep their next-door neighbors in Massachusetts. "Okay, Helen, your Mother can move in next-door, but there's no way she's living in this state!"
Stoned (or late to the game): The dudes who did West Virginia and Maryland. Shape-wise, they're my two favorite states, but those guys either showed up to work really late, after all the surrounding land was claimed... or really stoned, and got really, really creative.
Either way, those must've been cool jobs.
One of the following movies would be required to be on the air late on a Friday night:
- Any Sean Connery James Bond movie
[Man Law: The movie has to appeal to the lone guy on the couch, and be long enough that he can doze for 10 minutes once in awhile and not lose track. For that matter, you can't go wrong with this one.]
"Don't we mourn the dead on Memorial Day with volleyball and sunscreen? Don't We the People commemorate the Fourth of July by setting meat and bottle rockets on fire?"
- Sarah Vowell, from Take the Cannoli
[This installment comes from a longhand essay written 10 years ago by my Mother, which I originally posted in August 2006. I re-read it on Memorial Day, and thought I'd move it up. Mom originally wrote it to submit to Readers Digest's 'Life in These United States;' something we didn't know until we found it in a notebook that we found after her death in 1998.]
Do You Remember?
This summer I returned to the beach where my family summered when I was young. My brother and his wife still have a summer home there, and my children and I rented a cottage a few doors away.
While we were there, my brother and I reminisced about the "old days." One day in particular: VJ Day 1945. Here we were, on the same beach, 51 years later and could picture it as clearly as if it were re-enacted before our eyes.
Jack was 9; I was 6. It was a regular summer day when all of a sudden -- everything changed. I didn't remember exactly how we found out the news, but Jack said there were neighbors with a short-wave radio because they had family in Europe. My first recollection of the announcement was of our friend's Mom, walking down the middle of our small street with a spaghetti pan and large spoon as a drum, crying "The War is Over!" As she walked by other houses, she was joined by more people, especially children, and all uf us had willing Moms to lend a pan and a spoon to this wonderful parade.
Then the Dads got in on the action and decided there would be a bonfire and singing on the beach that night to celebrate. Our cottage was one of those on the shorefront, so it would be right outside!
We both laughed as we remembered Mom encouraging Dad to add some cardboard-like "wardrobes," which tended to lean and whose doors could never be opened without the whole thing tipping dangerously over our heads, for the fire. Dad not only agreed, he took the shortcut and sent them sailing out the second floor windows.
We had very special company that week: Our Aunt Kay and Uncle Tommy. Uncle Tommy was in the Army and home on furlough after serving in Europe. He was now waiting for expected orders to the Pacific. He and Aunt Kay were younger than Mom and Dad and very glamorous to me. Aunk Kay was very pretty and Uncle Tom was 6'4" and just the most handsome soldier I could imagine. Jack and I both were very proud to go to Church and walk in next to Uncle Tommy, so tall and distinguished in his uniform!
Now the war was over! This meant Uncle Tommy would not have to go back!
But where was he?
In all the hubub of getting the bonfire ready and people laughing, crying and already singing on the beach, where was Uncle Tom?
I ran upstairs to the guestroom and I shall never, never forget what I saw next: Uncle Tommy was kneeling beside the bed with his head down and his hands folded. I had been calling out his name -- but when I saw him, I knew I should be quieter.
Ne nodded and smiled a little and said, "I know, honey. But first I wanted to remember and say a prayer for all my buddies who didn't make it home."
[I grew up with this story. So did my sisters and our brother, Tommy. But mercilessly... that's where it ends. Just when I want to reach out for more, all that's left are vapors. You see, Readers Digest only wanted 500 words. It remains, however, a family story that marks our Memorial Day.]
Picture one: What allergies are doing to my ass today.
Picture two: What allergies are doing to my head today.
(Picture credit: Chris DiClerico)
Picture three: All I've got to fight those allergies with today at the office.
(Picture credit: The Adventures of Accordion Guy)
Time to ramp up the pharmaceuticals!
And on top o' that, I never saw it coming this morning... until I broke my number one rule...
"No man ever wore a scarf as warm as his daughter’s arm around his neck."
It's her birthday again. My Katherine turned 8 today. And when she comes home from school, I will ask her about her day at school and then say something like, "By the way, Katherine, how many times to I have to tell you not to leave your bike in the middle of the garage."
And when she opens the door, she'll find her new bike waiting for her.
As a parent, it's amazing how the ways your children return the love you give them changes over time. Now, instead of kisses, I get "The Cheek," "The Forehead," or "The Lean,"--all delivered so I can kiss or hug her. Gone are the days of the Arrowroot Biscuit-smudged wet kiss on the lips or the run-and-fling-the-arms-around-my-neck toddler hugs. Oh, I still get those on occasion, but in this world of 8-year olds, things change, and quite unintentionally I've found a new source of those many happy returns of affection.
After Christmas, on a trip to Target to return a duplicate gift to our youngest son, I walked by a corner display of Magna-Doodle Pocket, and snagged one as an afterthought, so Katherine would have something from the trip, too.
Since then, that Magna-Doodle has not left her night table. Thanks to the gods at Fisher Price, nearly every night when I come up to kiss her goodnight before going to bed, there's a message for me: a riddle, a scribble that she dares me to turn into a picture of something, a "Welcome Home Daddy" for when I get back from a trip. This morning, when she woke up, it said, "Happy Birthday, Sweetheart."
Unintentionally, and magically, it's our new version of the Arrowroot kiss.