Friday, June 15, 2007
Ode to my Dad
Since Sunday is father’s day, I thought it befitting to write something about my Dad. You might not believe it, but there was a period in my life that my dad, now an octogenarian, and I didn’t get along. I surmise those difficult years began when I was ten years old until about the age of 23. Of course, if you ask him, he would say I am still rebelling. I can recall my father coming for a visit one cool spring day, and upon opening the door, the volume from my state of the art surround sound stereo equipped with home theater speakers with sub woofers the size of a pair of small asteroids echoed across the atmospheric continuum at sixteen octaves louder than the average person could bear. I have always liked my music loud not that any of my family has ever noticed, but my father in his infinite wisdom looked at me and said with somewhat of a sardonic look in his eyes, “I thought you grew out of that.” That is my father, a staid, staunchly conservative Catholic Republican from whom I have garnered much of the values I have today.
As a teenager of the 70s, I always tried to impart to him the wisdom of my youth. I tried to explain to him the greatness of the Rolling Stones, the wonders of Woodstock, and how great it was just to sit back and listen to the entire side of the rock group Rare Earth’s “Get Ready” with their ten minute drum solo. But, did he get it? No! Or, maybe he just wasn’t listening. I would complain to him the misery of having to take history, oh – how I hated history; learning about all those dead people. What was the point? I would tell him why our generation was so much better than his and why Vietnam should not have been fought. I even told myself I would raise my children differently than the way my parents raised kids. I asked my Dad to which political party he was affiliated, he said, “Republican” and immediately I went down and registered, “Democrat.” I have since learned the error of my ways. I didn’t realize or maybe I wasn’t paying attention that I was talking to a man who survived the Great Depression, who was a veteran of World War ll, whose father died when he was in high school, who lost two brothers from tuberculosis, whose house burnt down, and who had to work out of necessity to help his family through the Great Depression. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but my father was already wise beyond his years.
I remember my delinquent years when teenage logic ruled the roost. I can recall the night when my cabal of teenage friends sauntered over to our house in Los Gatos through the back way while my parents were asleep around midnight. My one closest friend convinced me to leave the comfort of my bed on some mysterious journey in the pouring rain to Oak Meadow Park for the sole purpose of throwing garbage cans down some manhole covers. I don’t think that was our original intent, but that is what we ended up doing. Every fiber of my being told me not to go, but somewhere in the recesses of my tumultuous youthful mind, teenage logic won the day, and I joined my fellow hooligans in pursuit of youthful indiscretion. How was I supposed to know someone would be working in some shanty shack on the park grounds near the very manhole covers that proved to be our downfall? As we were performing our dirty deeds, some unsavory character exited the shack and said he had the police on the phone. What were we going to do? We couldn’t run. There is not much four teenage rebels can do when each one is holding a full-size metal garbage can in his arms. We were escorted to the police station. The police called my father and my dad was forced to interrupt his sleep to come and retrieve me. I was petrified. He looked at me and said, “You will never learn!” He always loved those curt sentences that comprised four or five words but told you in no uncertain terms what the near future was going to be like. My mother saved and later gave to me that little piece of yellow paper the police gave my father, awkwardly torn from the pages of some official notepad, where someone had scribbled, “arrested for miscellaneous mischief.” I still have it to this day. Just those two words said it all – teenage logic requires an arrest warrant for “miscellaneous mischief.” I still wonder how my father survived those years.
Vacations were also a memorable experience. Every year my father took a week off from work to take his fourteen bumpkins on some camping trek; Lassen Volcano, Yosemite, and other sundry vacation sites. Those were the days – before seatbelts. Fourteen (maybe a few less since some may not have been born yet) kids heaped one upon the other, each one trying to vie for attention as “Sing along with Mitch” song books were passed out, and we attempted to sing not quite in unison some of the songs such as, “Bye Bye blackbird.” If the trip were eight hours away, it would take us sixteen hours, because there were the pit stops, the car trouble, and the stopping every fifteen minutes to spank all the kids who were misbehaving. Needless to say, I think I was spanked every fifteen minutes. I wondered sometimes if my dad enjoyed those vacations as much as we did.
I look back on my youth as I raise my own kids. I have tried to rectify the way my parents brought us up, but to no avail. I see those same rebellious attitudes in my kids that I once embodied. I think we are in some cosmic universe where every generation comes full circle. My children make the same comments I once said. My daughter wants to know the reason she needs to study history – I mean all those dead people. My son already has planned out a better way to raise his kids. I once again try to impart my wisdom to my kids, but I am finding the same roadblocks I had when I tried to impart my wisdom to my parents only now it’s in reverse. Maybe this is what unconditional love is; raising children the best you can and realizing that someday, perhaps decades away, that children, in God’s infinite wisdom, will learn to understand the wisdom of their fathers.
My father has taught me the love of God, the love of family, the importance of country (being a Republican that is). In the end, I guess that is all one can really hope for.