Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ode to my father

For Father’s Day, I thought I would do something I’ve never done before: share a few anecdotes about my father, in homage to a man I’ve long underappreciated and have had difficulty connecting with. Here are a few of the moments I’ll never forget about my father.

* * *

Once upon a time, during a visit to Oakland, it was suggested to my father, my brother, and me that we see the local Mormon temple, which was reputed to be quite aesthetically pleasing. Once there, we walked the grounds, and somehow got roped into taking a “tour,” their version of a tour involving very little architecture or landscaping, and quite a bit of religious propaganda, most notably in the form of a short movie about the Mormon “experience.”

After the movie, our guide, a smile-happy young woman, asked us what we thought of what we had just seen. Though I gather the questions were directed at all of us, she specifically looked at my father, and he took the lead in answering.

“I thought it was very nice,” he said, “that you believe in a father who takes care of you.”

Our guide nodded approvingly. Then she made the mistake of asking my father, “What do you believe in?”

My father looked at her with the placid expression that he had maintained throughout the film and conversation, and said, “Nothing.”

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder beside him in the theater-style seats, I tried desperately not to laugh out loud. I could feel coming upon me a crack of smile the size of the Grand Canyon, and it was only a combination of jaw-clenching, lip-biting, and hand-over-mouth that saved me from an epic guffaw. The man had said he believed in “nothing,” as if it were the blandest comment in the world.

Our young lady looked slightly bewildered, and I’m sure she didn’t want to respond in any fervent way, for fear that something was lost in translation. In a way, I think something was lost, because although I know my father was honestly expressing that he has no religious beliefs, I don’t think he realized the idiomatic impact of his blunt statement.

Embroiled as our societies are in various destructive culture wars and ideological arm-wrestling matches, I’d like to think that one day, I’ll be able to say with a straight face and clear conscience, “I believe in nothing.”

That was the last time we visited a Mormon temple together, but hopefully, not the last.

* * *

On a family daytrip to Davis, California (the reasons for the trip would bore you as much as Davis bores most sane people), I asked to be dropped off for the afternoon to see an old college friend who was now attending UC Davis. I met up with her, just the two of us, and we talked, laughed, and drove around while the rest of my family pursued their own Davis delights.

When my family retrieved me, my mother asked me, “Did you have enough time together?”

My father interrupted in a good-humored way and said, “When it comes to the people you care about, when is it ever ‘enough’ time?”

When it comes to life lessons, I was never particularly receptive to the ones my father tried strongly and directly to instill in me. But once in a while, he would utter an offhand remark that reached right into the most humane and sympathetic part of me.
* * *

My favorite memory of my father comes from my grade school days.

When I was a boy of about six, just starting to walk that one long block to school on my own, my father would walk me out of the house and up to the street curb, and then let me cross the street by myself. At the opposite side of the street, it was my habit to look back at my father, and invariably, he would move his hands up to his head and make a gesture of finger-combing his hair. He was telling me to smooth down my disheveled jungle of hair. I would try my best as I walked the rest of the way to school. Looking back now, I wonder why he didn’t just put a comb in my pocket. I also wonder why the best memories are always the simplest.

Though I don’t tell him nearly enough, and though his attempts to give me advice might strike me as imperious and officious now, I hope he realizes that I appreciate his concern. And no matter how well I've learned to tame my hair, I hope my father will continue to look out for me as he did back then.
* * *

Note [The following will perhaps be of only minimal interest, and only to my long-time readers.]:

I wrote and edited the above post all in one day, and so it is in very real terms a first draft, as opposed to almost all my other posts, which are heavily scrutinized and modified before I publish them. Not to say that there is any treasure hunt of typos or grammatical boners to be found. Rather, it is only remarkable to the degree that anyone cares about the “voice” of my posts, which perhaps is less clear in this one than in my more carefully written posts. If I ever get around to revising this post, I may put the new version alongside the above version as a useful comparison study. For myself, I mean, because I’m sure no one else cares!

1 comment:

Deana said...

I really enjoyed this post, though I was indeed disappointed to find that you had failed to include the Love Guru incident among your anecdotes.

Hats off, Dad.