It’s Father’s Day!
If you’ve hung around me for any length of time, you know my father gets kind of a bad rap. You know, he’s The One Who Left, etc. That stuff was formative to my personality, and so tends to get a lot of airtime, but then
I feel bad about that because he has his awesome side too, and this seems like an appropriate day to go WOO-HOO about all that. This grew out of a writer’s group prompt from last year.
My Dad never did anything halfway. Life with him was always a celebration of excess. When he first moved out, he lived and worked out of an industrial warehouse by the train tracks in small-town Columbiana. Looking back as an adult, I think he probably lived there because he couldn’t afford a separate apartment, but to us, who didn’t know from budgeting, it seemed he’d found us a strange, abandoned castle. Piles of alien substances around every corner, sleeping machine monsters, armies of vacuum cleaners standing at attention, and our clapboard bunk beds tucked neatly into the corner where we wrestled and fought and anchored our epic games of hide-and-seek. The treasure room was Dad’s office, in which we weren’t allowed to play, and where one whole wall was covered in sparkling mosaic tile shards, glittering jewels from floor to ceiling, endless patterns forming from the chaos, constellations in his private universe.
Outside the castle, the kingdom was equally exotic. The terrain was mountainous- I can’t remember the substance or color of the towering piles of debris, but they made a perfect landscape for games of adventure, spoil, and danger. And the train tracks, endless and mysterious and deadly, whispered of journeys I would never take, sang of places that only existed in my imagination, and then clamped down with finality on pennies and nickels and my first dog.
That warehouse is one of the earliest place-memories I associate with my father, and the wealth and space and wildness are things that I still associate with him. Dad’s life always smelled of abundance and surprise and magic. There began our tradition of hedonistic feasts – all you could eat pizza, soda, oreos, candies, new toys, and all-nighter movie marathons. Every child’s pot of gold. With my father, every visit was a celebration of wealth whether we had any or not. Why spend a quarter on the grab machines when you could blow ten bucks? Every truck stop we visited in the next decade suffered a shortage of fluorescent stuffed animals after we left, comparing the loot clutched in our small hands. Why spend an hour playing video games when you could spend the whole weekend camped out in front of the Nintendo, working out together how to open that last blasted door in CastleQuest? Why go home when you could go to Niagara Falls, just for the hell of it? Even the car leaked money, one dollar bills growing from the cracks and crevices to be discovered by eager, believing fingers.
It was also at my father’s knee that I learned the keen art of elaborate surprises – both the giving and receiving. When roadtripping, Dad never told us where we were really going. He got so famous for this that as time went on, he was forced to plant multiple layers of false clues about our destination in order to continue fooling us. We always thought we were going to Niagara Falls when we were going to Chicago, and thought we were going to D.C. when we were going to New York. My first surprise birthday party was at the age of 10, at the zoo. When Dad decided we needed to believe in Santa Claus, he and my mom and aunt and uncle went out at 10pm on Christmas Eve to haul in all the lumber for a tree house, and then went to the trouble of sending someone to shake jingle bells under the window the next morning to bring everyone out for the big reveal.
Dad is also the master of Spinning a Bad Situation. What do you do when your restaurant is taking way too long to fill the dinner orders of 5-7 hungry children (allowing for various step-siblings)? Invent games to play with the placemats. Preferably loud, raucus, laughter-inducing games so the staff is encouraged to move you out faster. What do you do with a car full of bored children in interminable traffic? Give the other drivers silly names and invent ludicrous dialogues for them to have with one another. In silly voices. Or just inspire a sing-along. What do you do with a car full of frightened children driving through a violent thunderstorm? Invent a ranking system for the lightning bolts and oversee a game of “Come On, Nature, You Can Do Better Than That. Don’t Be Such A Pussy.”
I learned the art of making magic with my Dad, and to whatever extent I manage to bring a little magic to my students or my friends, I like to think I’m channeling a little of him.
Love you, Dad, exactly as you are. ❤