Thanks, Dad

If you read through my blog, or spend any appreciable amount of time with me, you know that I think and talk a lot about my late mother. I miss her every day, and arguably I show my love for her more openly now than I did when she was alive.

In the process, quite accidentally, I kind of give my dad short shrift. So with it being Father’s Day and all, I figured it might be nice to write something about the man who had an awful lot with making me who I am.

Mom and Dad Dancing
Mom and Dad Dancing

My dad is a passionate man. Always has been. So, I guess you could say that it runs in the family. It was always very intense whenever he expressed his feelings; love, joy, sadness, anger, were all different notes in the same key growing up. While the anger could be overwhelming, you also knew that once it passed, it was gone, clearing like a summer thunderstorm. You hated getting caught in it, but if you could weather everything and keep your head low then you knew it was over soon. Granted, it didn’t teach me the best conflict resolution in the world, but getting a handle on that has been a fun challenge that I think I’m getting close to winning.

Brooklyn Family
Me, My Brother, Grammy and Grampy (my father's parents).
The flip side, of course, was that my father’s affection for his family was also overwhelming. I can see definite reflections in myself now that I have my own. Let’s just say that my kids will never, ever doubt how I feel about them.

In the line of deep feeling, I remember how broken my dad seemed when his parents died. His father died in September of 1984 and his mother on Christmas Day 1985. (That Christmas was pretty terrible. I remember that we attended the annual Christmas party at my maternal grandparents’ house and my own parents were so concerned with making sure that we didn’t ruin everyone else’s holiday that we were instructed not to bring up the fact that we were leaving that night to Brooklyn. It was a really weird feeling to have so much sadness when everyone was supposed to be so happy. I can only imagine what my father was going through, putting on a brave face in front of people.)

When my Grampy was laid to rest, I remember that I walked off alone after putting my rose on the casket. I was having a lot of trouble processing what the heck was going on, since death is such a big concept. My dad came up behind me and put his arm around me and I could tell he was upset too, but he was more concerned with making sure I was OK.

That’s one of those memories you’re both happy and sad that you have.

My father has always shown a fierce loyalty that most would agree got passed along to me and to my brother. That carries its own challenges as there are times when I’ve been loyal longer than I should have been. Also a fun challenge getting a handle on that, but often I’m convinced I don’t want to completely lose it. Loyalty is a lost commodity in this world, and I’d rather be loyal to a fault than ready to ditch someone at the first sign of discontent as so many others in my generation seem ready to do.

The greatest gift my father ever gave me in terms of personality, though, was the importance of fun and silliness.

I definitely got his sense of humor. Imagine how cool it was growing up with a Dad who not only told sill jokes but kept laughing at them. I often wonder who enjoyed The Muppet Show more, me or Dad. It’s a close competition either way. His favorites were Gonzo and Fozzie Bear, if I remember correctly.

There’s also the nicknames. I had a ton growing up, the majority of them revolving around the original “Moose.” This was shortened to “Moo” and was actually the name by which I was called most of the time. My jackass cousin Russell even twisted it into a pejorative (“Mooser”) in one of his common attempts to sully anything good and wholesome around him, and largely because it did get a reaction out of me since it was clear he was just being a jackass. But considering other things he did to other people, I got off really light.

The nicknames have been a rich tradition. Both of my cats, Stacey and both kids share between them about 1,456,983 nicknames. It’s a catalogue of cuteness. I’d list them out, but it would literally make this essay about twice as long.

My love of movies came directly from my father. Mom never really cared for the movie experience because she was prone to bad migraines. I think my dad was thrilled when he had kids he could take to the movies, so he could indulge in his own love for them as well. A memory that stands out above many others was going to the Aspen Hill movie theatre (well before it was the $1.99 theatre) to see The Empire Strikes Back. I remember sitting in the theatre with my dad before the movie started, and they were playing the soundtrack from the original on the speakers. I recognized it, as did my dad, but he liked it most when the music from the Cantina band started up. Which of course prompted my father to go into his trademark line to get me to laugh, imitating Greedo and saying, “Ottie-boodie-boodie-boo, Solo.” When I was 7, that was freaking hysterical. (Side note: I would try to correct him even then.)

I remember going to see Fantasia when it was re-released, and we went with our neighbors. They had to go to the bathroom a lot, and it really frustrated my dad. I think that was the source of my own life-long habit of never, ever going to the bathroom during a film. I’ve eased up on it now, but anyone who’s gone to movies with me through the years has seen me sit through some long movies, refusing to go to the bathroom even after having the gallon of soda that was only 50 cents more than a regular large.

My dad has a keen intellect and more than any other person I’ve known helped to instill the concept that formal education isn’t nearly as impressive or important as others would have you believe. He went straight into the USMC from high school and easily is smarter and more quick-witted than 95% of the “smart people” I’ve known. To boot, he was always modest about it as opposed to those that get snotty about what school they attended. Trust me, I’d throw my dad’s intellect up against certain Harvard grads any day with full faith that he’d shame them. It’s one of the reasons that I get so burned up about people that (knowingly or not) hold stereotypes about those that didn’t spend life in college or sheltered by a trust fund. If anything, I value the intellect of the person who earns it in the context of a “regular” job and practical life far more.

My dad spoiled the heck out of me, and I know that he didn’t spoil my brother quite as much (a fact I’ve tried to point out wasn’t my fault from time to time). I think that the source of it is that my dad was an only child, and his father was an only child, so when #2 popped into the world, I was like an unexpected freebie. He was extremely gentle with me, and my father – for any other flaws he may have ever had – doted on me. So yeah, both my parents were too soft on me, which is the likely reason I’m such a hard ass now. I’m making up for lost time, knowing that I was a bit spoiled growing up and kind of hating that fact.

However, my father had very clear lines drawn about what was acceptable and what wasn’t. When I was a teenager (I think I was about 14 or 15), as we were riding back from church, I told my mother that she was “pissing me off.” My dad got my mom inside the house, and abruptly turned on me with anger in his eyes. He made it very clear I was never to address my mother that way again, period. He didn’t really go into what the potential punishment was, I just quickly agreed and didn’t do it again (when he was in earshot).

Having been lied to by TV through the years, I later sought a bonding moment with my dad when I was 16 and I informed him that I’d been drunk for the first time. My dad took it in stride and I asked him not to tell Mom. I don’t remember if he said he would or wouldn’t. I thought he’d have been proud of me, tousling my hair and lightly admonished me for being a scamp. Instead, he ratted me out to my mother and was in the room shortly thereafter blasting me with facts about drinking and its physical effects that she had stored up over the course of her lifetime of knowing the arcana of nursing.

Let’s just say I didn’t try to recreate any more Wonder Years moments with my dad after that. I can tell you, though, that my kids will never be able to rely on me not to rat them out either (depending on the offense). Of course, Mom habitually provided cover for me whenever Dad was ready to reduce the number of children in the house.

Of course, he did pass on a fair share of fears (airplanes) and bad habits (he smoked three packs a day until his heart attack) and irrationalities. None of this erases that. But over time, the negative lessens and you tend to remember the good stuff mainly.

When Mom died, though, I really saw my dad lost for the first time. She was the absolute love of his life, for better or worse, and he was hopelessly devoted to her. It was without reservation, and I think that it killed a fair number of my own relationships to have the type of fierce love as the model for a relationship. I definitely wasn’t realistic about what was necessary to make things work.

He’s moved on to Florida now, and he’s got his own sunset lifestyle going on, and he seems happy enough. We don’t see him nearly as much as I think we should and nearly every time I talk to him I tell him that. It’s actually gotten to be a joke that he’s a “grand/father in absentia.”

But I love him dearly and I will always. He’s my dad. I can’t thank him enough for helping to make me who I am.

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