Saturday, 14 June 2008

Truths of my Father

So, here we are again. A month or so after the observance of Mother's for Disarmament Day, we are now ready to celebrate the virtues of fatherhood. Father's Day has it's roots in much the same place as Mother's Day. Sonora Dodd had this truly unoriginal brainstorm while listening to a Mother's Day sermon in Washington in 1909. Sonora wanted to honour her own father, William Smart, a Civil War veteran who raised six children as a single father following the death of his wife in childbirth. She chose the June date which was close to her father's birthday and the first Father's Day celebration was held in Spokane in 1910. While many presidents supported the idea, it wasn't until Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation in 1966 and Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972, that Father's Day became an official part of the holiday fabric.

I want to reiterate, that I have tremendously mixed emotions about these fabricated celebrations that force us to honour people we should honour and respect every single day. After almost twenty-one years of parenthood myself, I understand all too well the challenges, difficulties, emotional extremes and homicidal thoughts that come with the territory. I have tremendous respect for anyone venturing into the realm of child-rearing as I truly believe that there is no task more difficult and no end more rewarding. Believe me! If any of us parents really understood what we were getting into, we would have signed commitment papers until we were grandparents and could laugh at the cool retribution of it all!

Much like I did on Mother's Day, I want to offer my own father a small gift. (mostly because I didn't buy him a tie!) Anne Geddes said: "Any man can be a Father but it takes someone special to be a dad." I am one of the fortunate ones who has a DAD! Here are some truths that I have gleaned from him over the years.

1. You can't suck and blow at the same time. Now, my dad used to play the harmonica. (I know that this isn't what you thought it was, but this is a PG show!) Basically, he is saying that you need to make a decision and stick to it. Playing both ends against the middle doesn't serve anyone well. Or, maybe he really meant, you can't suck and blow and the same time! I prefer the metaphor over the filth.

2. That is why they make chocolate and vanilla! (Dad has a tendency to speak in catchphrases!) We all have different likes and dislikes and nobody should be judged by them. We need to be tolerant of each other and the choices that we make. While I am certain that Dad truly does believe this, I sometimes think that he would be happier if we all just chose chocolate. It would make life a whole lot easier if everyone just agreed with him!!

3. Never stop talking! My father possesses the most gregarious and outgoing personality of anybody I have ever known. He can literally make conversation with a doorknob. (As a matter of fact, I am certain that he has had many a conversation with people that he might consider doorknobs!) While he owns a wicked temper (Oh yeah-thanks for that specific inheritance, Dad!) he has never ever cut anybody out of his life. Even when he has been wronged, he has found a way of keeping the lines of communication open. This is especially true for family. He has also been known to bring others back together after years of estrangement. Keep talking and nothing can be left unsaid.

4. Always take a map, a phone and a survival kit. My father's internal GPS is chronically busted. This is a man who still cannot get into my area without directions and I have lived here for twenty years. This is a man who has gotten on the off-ramp of the 401! This is a man who has lived in Toronto for almost 70 years and still cannot figure out how to get around without written directions. This is a man who has been lost in some of the best cities in the world. This is a man who has driven back and forth from Miami countless times, and still can't figure out where he picks up the Florida Turnpike!! When he visits clients, he has a map affixed to the outside of his files. He always carries a Perly's guide, a blanket, candles and Eatmore candy bars in his car, a holdover from his traveling days to the armpit of Ontario, just in case he gets stuck somewhere. Thank God for cellphones, digital GPS devices and my mother for without them he might be permanently stuck on the interstates.

5. Be a real presence in your children's lives. My dad never missed a parent-teacher conference, a music night, a school play, a synagogue service, or even a play day! At a time when fathers were not the norm at such daytime events, he was always there, even at the expense of his work. He walked the walk and talked the talk of fatherhood. This involvement has carried on into his life as zaidie! Dad is not simply zaidie, he is ZAIDIE!!!!! (Mom often laments that she is the woman that comes with Zaidie!) He takes a true interest in his grandchildren's lives and he instinctively recognizes that he needs to make the effort, because the kids (being the self-involved creatures that they are) won't always! He calls them and simply chats. He stays involved, even now as they are moving into adulthood. His grandchildren genuinely like him, not just love and respect him.

6. A good laugh is alway important-even if it induces an asthma attack. (Thanks again for that little inheritance, Dad!) My father can laugh at the same jokes over and over and over again. He can't tell a joke for shit, but he sure is a great audience. Put on a Mel Brooks or Peter Sellers movie (especially the Pink Panther series!) and watch him collapse into a coughing fit for the ages. We keep a supply of Ventolin on hand just in case. The late great Buddy Hackett had him begging for mercy! His laugh is truly infectious and I often find myself laughing at his pure enjoyment of the material!

7. Harry Belafonte is a genius! As is Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, and Pete Seeger. My dad instilled in me a passion for music that was neither parochial nor limited. He is always open to discovering new sounds, even today. I cannot remember a day during my childhood when Dad wasn't singing. His smooth baritone would fill the house while he was shaving, showering, setting the table and even vacuuming. (And he vacuums a lot!!!!!) He always said that he stopped singing publicly when I started, but I hope that is not the case, and I have often told him he still has the voice! Some of my best memories were road trips in the car singing Belafonte and show tunes. I realize that it sounds hokey, but it was fantastic. "Why don't we put man and women together to find out which one is smarter....." Dad knows that Harry has the answers for every problem.

8. There is way too much good food in this world to always be worrying about a diet!! Sometimes, calories be damned, you just gotta enjoy it! We only go around once and nobody meets God thinking that they ate too much chocolate and carbs!! Food is a gateway to social behaviour and my father is very, very social!!!

9. Celebrate whenever you can. We attend way too many sad events to not revel in the happy ones. Dad has been known to drive hours for birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. He is also there for funerals and shivas to offer comfort and hugs. Stay connected and enjoy every day that is given to us, especially if the band plays a polka!!

10. Above all-Be a Mensch! Many years ago, a woman who lived in our building down south described my father to me as "A Git Neshema", a good soul. Dad is the type of guy where if you might say to him in passing, that your refrigerator is on the fritz, he will tell you that he has a guy that can help. Not only will he give you the name and number of the guy, but he will call the guy for you, negotiate the price, come with you to meet the guy and make sure that he throws in the added warranties. Years ago, when he was first starting out in his current line of work, Dad made a call on a young doctor to discuss his disability insurance. After spending several hours with the young doctor, Dad made it clear to him that he wasn't going to sell him anything, because he was adequately covered and didn't require more at the time. The young doctor was so stunned that he declared that this was a man with whom he wanted a relationship. 35 years later and they are still friends!!! That is my Dad. A real Mensch.

Just to set the record straight, Dad is a techno-idiot who can't turn on the TV or the computer without help. He has left his wallet, purse, jacket, glasses, PDA and keys in more locations around the world than anyone would have thought possible. He often has 4 separate phone conversations going on at the same time, but he can't remember my other parent's phone number! He is a true contradiction. He is equally endearing and infuriating. He fights with passion, loves with passion and lives with passion. He hears music in all parts of his life. He is my father, but more importantly, my Dad! Maybe next year, I will buy him the tie!!

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