Father’s Day brings back a lot of memories. On that special Sunday, the Old Man figured it was his day to do whatever he wanted. He pulled out all the stops.
He would start drinking right after breakfast. Then he’d slap Mom around while his weeping kids readied for church. We would arrive there with his curses ringing in our ears and memories of him on the porch in his underwear, flinging a bottle of gin, as we left.
Cool story, huh? If it were true, I could use it as an excuse for the way I turned out. Instead, I have to blame where I am on myself.
The Old Man was a good father. Not the best, of course. Growing up, I resented him for not owning Disneyland, refusing to let me have a bazooka and making me mow the lawn three times in one day for something I did with a BB gun. The guy could be a real tyrant.
Mostly, though, he went to work, made sure the bills were paid, loved my mother unreservedly, made sure we were safe and kept me from becoming a mandatory ward of the state.
For all of this, we had a mostly adversarial relationship. He could never figure out what the hell was wrong with me, and I regarded him as a dungeon master.
But there were brilliant moments when I understood the depth of his love and concern for me. He gave me his .22 rifle when I was 12. Seriously. Right out of the blue, he just handed it over.
“Don’t shoot anyone important.”
Calm down. He taught me how use it responsibly. I got pretty good with it, too. I once shot a starling off the peak of a house at the end of the block. I never told him about it (until now) because as soon as I pulled the trigger, I started thinking about where the bullet ended up after going through the bird. I waited to be arrested for nearly a month.
I also saw how he treated my mom, which was basically to say, “Yes, dear,” in response to whatever she said, and to show her respect and affection in public. I grew up knowing that I wanted that in a relationship.
My most cherished moment, though, was the day he came to the school when I was in the sixth grade. He walked into the front office and demanded to know why I was in trouble (again). I told him. There was no point lying. At least 50 people saw me do it.
When I finished explaining, the Old Man furiously turned and stormed out of the office and down the hall. I followed meekly, resigned to my fate.
I heard loud voices coming from my classroom. I peeked inside. There was the Old Man holding Mr. Crankus up on his tippy toes against the blackboard.
“You never hit my son in the head again. That’s MY job! Got it?”
Not wanting to witness a murder, I scuttled back to the office. I got a whacking at home and was forced to pay for the cardboard world globe I cut up to make a cool space helmet.
I still got into trouble at school, but Crankus never slammed me in the head with an encyclopedia again. He just threatened to call the Old Man. That more than did the trick.
Whatever fatherly mistakes I made with my own family are mine. I have to own them as personal shortcomings, rather than blame them on my dad. He did the best he could with what he had to work with.
But the positive things — keeping a job, loving my wife and not letting any of my kids commit bank robberies until they at least graduated from high school — I picked up from watching him.
I like to think those things also make me a decent grandfather, someone wise and loving for the most wonderful children in the world.
Me • “Yes, you can have the entire bag of candy. But don’t barf on the front room carpet, and if Grammy asks how many pieces you’ve had, you lie and tell her ‘just two.’”
Them • “Thanks, Papa. You’re the best grandpa ever!”
It probably isn’t true, but I like hearing them say it anyway.