My father is a complex human being. He is funny and cynical, educated, Spartan in his habits, short-tempered, and transfixed by Nazi Germany. At 91, he still ambulates without walker or cane, fixes his own meals, and sleeps a lot. I’m not sure he can still read, although he pretends his eyesight is fine. I believe he still has all of his teeth. His asthma is the same as it has been all his life, not good, but bearable.
I am sure I got my intellectual curiosity from my father. I also inherited his sturdy gene packet, his zest for simplicity, cynicism, and a short fuse. I wish I had gotten his teeth. I believe I got his pride, and thrift store addiction. Both my dad and I like to brag about our self-sufficiency. Neither of us wants anything to do with doctors. When complimented about a particularly fine piece of apparel, he’ll say with casual pride, “I paid 25 cents for it.”
My father and I are both dogmatic, and absolutely sure of our convictions. “I don’t eat flesh,” he proclaims, after converting to lacto-vegetarianism. He is sure milk is okay, because the cows on the Amish farms in his neighborhood seem happy and content. Eggs are a different story. Once a lover of beer in frosty mugs, he decided alcohol was an unnecessary evil and joined the WCTU (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union).
I got my sense of humor from my father, a healthy mix of wry quips and physical humor. As a young father, he was king of the surprised double-take, the master of fake falls. His standard dinner jokes still ring in my ears, “Done to a turd, er, a turn!” “Uh! This stuff keeps getting in my mouth!”
And there was the magic glass joke, where he would point out the window and top off our milk glasses when we turned our heads. No matter how much we drank, the glass never got empty. Following his lead, we were all giants at the table; glaring menacingly at trees (broccoli) and baby’s brains (brussel sprouts), soon to be devoured. “Who wants the pea water?!” he’d exclaim, and we would fight over who got to drink the green liquid from the vegetable steamer.
My Dad and I are both a little like the character Dustin Hoffman played in the movie, “Rainman” – easily nonplussed by commotion. He often accused me of being hypersensitive, which was the pot calling the kettle black. In the chaos of my childhood, my father would retreat to his windowed study and jack up his classical music while he graded papers. When he’d come out and find his six kids tumbling around the house he would growl, “Settle down kids, settle down, or there’ll be pissing, and moaning, and blood on the floor.” He was right, of course – we never quit until someone got hurt.
Luckily, I inherited my father’s talent for writing. Until recently, he was still sending letters to the local newspapers, and The New York Times. Once I asked what he was up to, and learned he was transcribing Louis Pasteur’s notes from French to English. This man loved books so much, he brought home boxes of them every week from auction until he had stuffed an entire cow barn full to the rafters.
In grade school, I filled black marble pads with illustrated narrative. I would not have survived puberty without my diaries. I wrote my first letter to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News in the early 80’s. How surprised I was to see it in print, augmented with an editorial cartoon! Like my father, I’ve written many letters since then, enough to fill a scrap book with faded newsprint. And now I’m working on my second book, and am about to get published in a second anthology!
I owe much to my father. He bequeathed me his good eyes; his humor, rich in puns and pratfalls, his sarcasm, aversion to turmoil, and his intellectual approach to life. Like him, I’ll probably live a long life, and keep on writing until either my eyes or my fingers fail me. All in all, I ended up with a healthy selection of my father’s strengths and foibles.