Saturday, October 06, 2012

Top Ten Things I Learned from my Father

For my Dad's birthday this year, in lieu of a fancy gift, (because who wants a fancy gift anyway--okay, don't answer that) I'm writing a little essay, an essay that's a month and change late. An essay about the top ten lessons I learned (but don't always in all cases heed) from my Dad. 

Number Ten:  Take care of your shoes.
I don’t really do this. 

And, I’m sorry.

And I know I should be. 

Especially in the case of expensive boots.  Y’all know how I love my tall boots. And when they fall apart for lack of oiling and polishing I’ll be sorry. DAMN sorry.  My father, on the other hand, held a shoe polishing party every Sunday afternoon.  Wingtips were hauled out and inspected.  Strong smelling polish assiduously applied.  Thorough and enthusiastic buffing ensued. 

The shoes. They always looked good.    

Number Nine: For GOD’S SAKE, know your multiplication tables.

I was not a problem child in terms of my school work. Ahem. Grades were not an issue, really, and so my Father stayed largely checked out of my scholastic situation UNTIL: 

multiplication tables. 

Once he learned multiplication tables were upon me, it lit a parental fire.  Starting with my two’s, grilling sessions were held each night.  Once I became reasonably proficient, I was randomly grilled.  Ultimately, races were held with his adding machine.   I needed to demonstrate the ability to come up with the answer faster than the machine. 

Once I could do this reliably?

He could go back to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Forever.  

Number Eight:  Never use regular boring old words when a pithy phrase can be substituted.

That’s not just a big pothole in the road.

“Bridge out!”

The guy wasn’t just nervous.

“His butt was working buttonholes.”

That person didn’t just spend way too much for that insert major purchase: [house, car, boat].

 “He has more money than sense.”

  A girl is not simply unattractive. 

“She’s so ugly she has to slap herself to sleep.”

They person isn't big or large.

"He's/she's big enough to hunt bear with a switch."

You're not flat broke, you're...

"Financially embarrassed"

You get the picture.

I believe it's safe to say I’ve mastered this skill. At least to a certain degree. 

Number Seven:   Chew with your mouth CLOSED.

I spent my entire childhood wondering why my Dad was so obsessed with me doing this and my entire adulthood being embarrassed for and wanting to slap the shit out of those who didn’t learn this important lesson.

Hear me now believe me later: there is no substitute for table manners. Tell all your friends. 

But especially tell your kids.

Number Six: It’s all relative.

I’ll never forget, during my starter divorce (cringe), when I was enumerating to my Dad the egregious wrong that had been perpetrated upon my poor defenseless person as a result of the marriage from which I now sought to extricate myself, what he said. 

And it was this: 

You think the situation is really bad because, in your experience, it’s the worst thing that’s happened to you.  But it isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened.  And it’s not even the worst thing that ever will happen.
Can I just say?

I get that now.
Oy vey.

Number Five:  Car Maintenance, Car Maintenance, Car Maintenance.


(I’m very good about changing the oil.) 

Number Four:  Debt is BAD.

Get a low interest rate.  Pay it off as quickly as you can.

 Number Three:  Be skeptical.

The ol’ if it sounds too good to be true?  It probably is. 

My Dad is a skeptic, people. 

Nowhere was my Dad’s skepticism more in evident than in church.  Oh, he went, don’t get me wrong.   He himself was brought up in the church and I think he felt duty bound to warm a pew on Sundays.  But it was way more a sociological study than a religious exercise in his case.  Annoyed first of all that it meant forgoing a Winston for a sizable chunk of time, and second of all that, well, let’s face it, there were more than a few pompous asses in evidence, my Dad spent his Sunday mornings Observing as opposed to Believing.

Albeit fairly quietly.    

But it set the clock ticking for the inevitable collision:  the Pastor would eventually have to pay us an in-person visit and ask my Dad that age-old, dramatic question. In a voice aquiver with righteous concern, brotherly love, Pastorly emotion, and religious fervor,

“Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?”

At which time Dad was forced to point out,

“No.  And neither do you.”


Not…THE TRUTH, God's sake!  ((cringe!)) 

Anything but that!

The battle for Jesus that followed there in the living room on Truman Drive, the space we hardly ever sat in, the room with a floor clad in glorious golden shag a full inch in length (I ought to know I vacuumed it enough),  was arduous, hard fought, and at least an hour in length (I was a youngster at the time, it seemed to me to go on forever).  The Pastor would eventually throw out all the tools in his big bag of Jesus:  bible verses, fear of hell, peer pressure, prayer, pleading, ye olde Roman’s Road, what I’ve now come think of as the “Patrick Swayze Argument”:
Jesus is like the wind.  ‘Cause you can just FEEL him! 

The one thing the Pastor didn’t have in his big bag of righteousness was this:  proof.    

As my Dad put it,

“Unless you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who has managed to die, go to heaven, and then somehow reappear, the truth is you don’t know where you’ll spend eternity.  And you’ll never know.”

This sort of bare naked truth was clearly not part of the Pastor’s everyday reality.  He was unused to thinking of his sizable Sunday morning congregation as “one thousand voices all singing together about a heaven they have no real reason to believe exists”.

That is not how the Pastor viewed his world.

But he had to at least glance through the lens of reason on that day.

Did his shoulders seem a little stooped as he was ultimately forced to accept defeat and head back out to his brand new expensively appointed Lincoln Continental (purchased for him as a birthday gift by his deacons) after shaking hands and stepping off the golden shag, never to return? 

I think they might have.

I can still see the Pastor that day now, through the panes of the big bay window, heading off down the driveway. 

Only now my mind adds a quiet phrase,

“girl, BYE.”  

Number Two:      WORK

As explanation:  WORK.

And the Number One Lesson my Dad Taught me: 

[While sliding with him driving an out of control Mustang driving on a Midwestern road that had frozen into a solid sheet of ice, as I cringed in terror and braced myself in anticipation of the impact that was sure to occur at any second…]

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, Bizzy!”

[Yah, we didn’t wreck.]
HAPPY BELATED SIXTY-SECOND BIRTHDAY TO MY DAD!  I'm trying not to sweat the small stuff.   

(And--don't tell me-- it's mostly all small stuff, right?)