Father’s Day brings all kinds of emotionality that escapes me this year. I’m trying to find photos of him before he went gray. Seems like both parents were always silver haired.
I remember my father partly for his sense of humor and his groaningly goofy sayings. If he was in a good mood he’d walk around the house and slick back his wavy hair and chirp,
“Brylcream a little dab’ll do ya.
Brylcream you look so debonair.
Brylcream, a little dab’ll do ya,
Girls love to run their fingers through your hair.”
Before age twelve or so my sis and I thought he was funny. We would join in the countless jingles, ditties and songs that we loved.
Family trips to Michigan to visit Grampa turned song fests into battles. In the car one of us would sabotage the harmony or lag behind and mess up the song. I could be particularly prickly if my sister started singing on one of my solos-one I’d personally decided everyone in the car needed to hear from beginning to end. How could they not enjoy my crooning soul-wrenching version of “Where is Love” from Oliver!? I figured I had all rights to sing it in the Rambler or whatever clunkmobile my parents owned at the time. So before the song fight escalated into actual pummeling, Dad would try a brief, “that’s it, girls. We’re going to take a break now.” After a few minutes of sibling frostiness, during which pinches and kicks were executed against each other in the backseat, Dad would try another song:
“Love marriage, love and marriage
go together like a horse and carriage. And I’m tellin’ you
You can’t have one without the uuuhhhhh-ther.”
He carried out the end note on “other” glancing back at his daughters to see if we’d smile.
Good try, Dad.
As we grew older Dad’s songs and sayings became painful as my sister and I panicked over our parents’ embarrassing imperfections.
Dad’s feet were size 13’s. He called them “gunboats.” He’d always been self – conscious about them. Tall and gangly, he’d have to duck his head on a low doorway. He good-naturedly joined in our family softball games but each one would find him stumbling as he ran the bases and he’d mutter at his fate. When puberty hit, I made sure I walked ten paces behind him so that any passersby wouldn’t assume we were connected by blood.
That is until I wanted something.
Early 1940’s before love and marriage
The strategy was to be as quiet and accommodating all Sunday morning. We were Unitarians so church attendance was random. After chores I made myself scarce until it was time to pop the question. I’d been waiting for few weeks, deliberately not daring to ask him for anything until I figured he was good and buttered up… and unaware. Then, I’d go in for the strike. The goal was to get him to drive me to the store and let me buy a candy bar, a pack of gum and a cherished Mad Magazine that would be read until the pages were thin and torn. Once in a while Dad gave in. Nothing made me happier than time alone with him driving to that store near the university. I knew exactly what the limits were. I was a child of the 50’s. Spanking and strong punishment were the norm.
Dad was generally a kind man with a keen sensibility for art, poetry, and music. Known in the family as a peacemaker when his twin older brothers and their pretty, Breck-haired temperamental wives got into a spat, Dad could settle the ruckus. He possessed negotiating skills even if the others resented his exalted position as a physician. Dad’s intellect was off the charts. He could recite information like a walking encyclopedia and had a dizzying memory. He enjoyed nature and observing wildlife. He took notes on everything. His world was a science laboratory and his greatest love, study.
When my sister and I would challenge his authority or attempt to argue back, Dad would poof out his chest, put his forefinger and thumb together and raise his pinkie like an elitist socialite drinking tea and say, “We all have our faults. Mine is being wicked.”