Twenty-seven years have passed since I last heard Dad’s voice. Although I playback pieces from him in my head, these soundbites never suffice, never satisfy my need to have him know who I’ve become. But interestingly, now, as a parent, I hear from Dad nearly every day. He’s come back to me at a time when I need him most.
It’s not just what I say that brings Dad back, but how I say it, that complex interaction of inflection, pitch and rhythm working in concert. I was startled the first few times I heard from him, a foggy but comforting echo making its way to the surface. Now I can’t wait to hear from him, nearly desperate, so much so that I just talk to see if he’ll emerge.
Jack and I, foot of the stairwell. It’s bedtime.
“Ok my man, time for bed. Go upstairs, get your pajamas on and pick-out two books. I’ll be up soon.” Dad, the Command Sergeant Major was often instructive, giving us orders, informing us of his expectations.
Like Dad, my approach to parenting is mainly no-nonsense, the Law Office of Non-Negotiation. I realize sometimes this approach is over the top, and I’ve been called tough, but my heart doesn’t take a backseat to my interest in order. I love my kids like a Dung Beetle loves its poop ball–yes, that much love.
Apart from his stern side, Dad could be funny as hell. His sense of humor required no encouragement, and I am no different. He constantly engineered some kind of ruse, like his Pygmy Habitat Campaign where the denizens, viewable only to Dad, lived on a tiny island hamlet just off Indian Head Road. We were fascinated as kids, the car ride to Winding River Park electrifying as we were guaranteed a peek at this mysterious island–no guarantee on spotting a pygmy, though.
I’ve got all kinds of ruses going, too, like Let Me Hear If Your Brain Is Working, an excuse just to make absurd electrical noises, faux synapses, while delivering an enormous, unabashed hug. But my hoaxes sometimes backfire (imagine that). The most recent is evidenced here.
“Yes. You have to brush your teeth. If you don’t they’ll fall out like Chiclets and you’ll have to eat Slurpees the rest of your life.”
“Yeah! Yeah!“ Jack is overjoyed. I am not.
I never would have guessed becoming a parent would bring Dad back, but it has. And it’s memories like this that keep him with me…
Imagine an 11 year-old boy playing soccer, a sanctioned game between two full teams, families and friends in attendance. A good crowd. Not hard to imagine, really too commonplace to give it another thought. Now imagine the boy’s reaction when Dad roars-up sideline in a National Guard Jeep, jamming full camo fatigues. The engine cools in park while an inescapable dust cloud rushes across the soccer field. Dad arrived and everyone knew it. Too cool, I thought. I played the rest of the game like a Right Full Back possessed. After the game we ripped into the surrounding pine barrens, the Jeep’s whip antennae buckling under our speed. The ride is still fresh in my mind.