Dads and the Wisdom of the Dollar Store Card
Are dads naturally funny? Are their favorite pastimes really grilling meat, watching sports, drinking beer, playing golf, or fishing? Do they regularly fall asleep in hammocks strung between trees in their backyards, unable to resist the lure of a nap as they still hold onto the clippers they had intended to use a few moments earlier? If the truth of what men are is to be deciphered from Father’s Day cards on display at the Dollar Store, dads appear to be a simplistic lot who prefer humor over sentiment. Most of the cards I read were riddled with jokes, the complete opposite of the earnest and heartfelt messages that the typical Mother’s Day cards reflected a few weeks earlier.
I am an outsider to the Father’s Day world . My grandfathers have been dead for over sixty years and my father died when I was twenty, five decades ago. Reading those Father’s Day cards made me smile. My dad was funny and loved a good joke. He was also the person who hated to cut the grass so much that if my taskmaster mother reminded him of his grass cutting responsibilities as he arrived home from work, he would merely take off his suit jacket, tie, and dress shirt, and, with wing tip shoes still on his feet, proceeded to cut the front and the back yard. That was his hurry-up-and-get-it-done response that would free him up to do what he really wanted to do. I can hear my mother calling out her impatient work name for him, “ROBERT“, with confrontational brightness when she was ready for him to accomplish a task he had avoided, as he eyed the family room couch, a synonym for a hammock in our house. He did play golf, on occasion, but his true love was always sports, especially baseball.
One of the ways I was able to be part of his maleness was to learn how to keep score at the Peewee baseball games he coached for my brothers. There was nothing lazy about getting to the games on time or getting my brothers to pitch, run, or catch better. Instead of fixing the clogged garbage disposal or changing filters in the furnace, my dad had every kid in the neighborhood running bases playing pickle or practicing to catch pop flies in our backyard, which he affectionately called “a can of corn”.
On Saturdays, my mother would make her weekly trip to the grocery store. When she pulled into our driveway, she would blow on the horn to beckon the sports zombies in the family room to bring in the myriad bags of groceries she had just purchased. I can still see Peter, Chuck’ and my dad mesmerized at the TV screen watching Wide World of Sports. Sometimes I even watched, temporarily abandoning my Barbie, just to be with all of them. If it was too exciting in the family room there would be a more aggressive round of horn honking from the drive way. Again, the familiar “ROBERT” would resound as my mother eventually entered the house. At that point everyone jumped into action knowing when they emptied the car, the entire kitchen table would be covered with delicious fresh food for them to enjoy the rest of the day.
As far as food goes, I can only remember my dad making two things one was homemade vanilla or fresh peach ice cream, hand cranked in the backyard. He got all of us to take turns cranking it until the final challenging few cranks that revealed the glorious cold contents were finally ready. The other thing he concocted was a sandwich he named a “London Dog”, in case it might have become famous one day. It started with a toasted English muffin, upon which you placed a sautéed hot dog, then my mother’s homemade barbecue and finally it was topped with a mound of grated Velveeta cheese. You would have thought he came up with Chicken Cordon Bleu or Beef Wellington for all the attention it got in our kitchen. I will never forget it. He probably only made it once, but that’s the thing about dads, ordinary activities are special to us that way, because their presence in our lives were often very sparse, so we cherished every moment they gave us.
My dad could be funny. I think he must have inherited it from my grandfather who always had a trick to play, like pulling a quarter magically out of your ear or catching a milkweed and blowing into his hand to create another quarter. Quarters were big then. As an aside we used to get a quarter for any “A” on our report cards. Poor Chuck could only borrow quarters from me. Ha-ha.
Dad also had a theatrical streak. On Halloween he would pull out a stick of greasepaint he had acquired at college. The why of this ownership was never revealed and it remained a happy mystery we held about Dad. When I was very young, it was a rare event for Dad to put us to bed. On those nights, he would sometimes act out a one-man pantomime. After we had all been bathed and had our pajamas on, he began his performance. He would demonstrate how my mother got ready to go out on the town with him. First, he pretended to pull on a girdle, wiggling his way into that hideous construct as we laughed hysterically, then he started making up her eyelashes which he mimicked with great skill, first curling them, then licking the tiny black brush before it was rubbed into the hard black ink before gently brushing it onto her lashes. After undoing each pin curl, he would style her hair into a French twist, holding the imaginary pins between his lips. He would then carefully open her lipstick, cranking it up out of the tube to eventually trace it over her lips. Finally, he would put an earring on each ear, connect the latch of a necklace, and spritz perfume at the base of her neck and behind her ears. Voila. Dad’s wondrous way of putting us to bed. Why couldn’t Mom let him do this every night? Well, that’s because he’s a dad, at least one from the 1950’s.
Dads don’t seem to need much from us. They don’t expect flowers or special brunches at fancy restaurants for them to know we love them. In turn, we don’t always expect as much from them. Their smile, a hug around your shoulder, a good joke, or being able to sit with them while they are doing what they like can be enough. Perhaps there is some wisdom to gain from the dollar store card section after all. Simple is good and just being with our dads can be gift enough for both of us. I truly wish I could just sit next to him on Father’s Day. I remember his love so clearly.
Happy Father’s Day to all.