When I sat and thought it through there were very few cherished moments with my dad (father #2) but there were some and, perhaps, that’s why they’re so striking in my memory. There are chunks of my childhood that defy detail but those scant few moments where my dad and I are actually interacting in an affectionate or meaningful way are like billboards of the mind.
These, by all reason, shouldn’t necessarily be joyful accounts because of their scarcity but sometimes we take what we’re given and can either rail against their ineffectualness (which I’ve done thoroughly in this blog) or embrace the small moments…the simple gifts.
Although this isn’t much of a list, for the sake of useless order, I’ll number them:
1) For a short time my mother was taking courses at the local community college and my dad was left to hang with me. There’s no question he would have preferred Club 99, the watering hole around the block but, left no choice, he and I did our Friday ‘Guys Night In’ when I was 6 or 7 years old. Of course, the scheduling of events were purely his but I didn’t give a shit. I was just happy that we were having ‘events’, period.
Partially because I always requested it and partially because it was his culinary specialty, we made popcorn in this old iron pot and it always came out great. His skill with constantly shaking the pot over the burner, with almost perfect timing, turned out the best popcorn I ever had. I remember that around the same time, Jiffy Pop, the prepackaged aluminum clad popping corn bubble came on the market and, although we gave it a trial run, it ended up right where it belonged, in the trash, because it couldn’t hold its own against my dad’s cast iron pot technique. I was not a fan of his other passion, pickled pig’s feet, because it was a conceptual turnoff but his popcorn and its drizzled butter were an in-house delicacy.
Then we moved on to the trusty black and white set where Gillette’s Friday Night at the Fights ruled the evening and my dad’s favorite fighter, Dick Tiger, dominated the Friday agenda. This was in a time when fighters fought early and often rather than negotiating the possibilities for months on end. If, for some reason, we were still going when the fights ended we might indulge in a little Peter Gunn action. This dark, film noir-type TV wasn’t really children’s fare (past my normal bedtime) but I got into it and understood as much as my kid brain could handle.
2) On Saturday mornings I always got up early to watch cartoons. Since it was Saturday and they were on so ridiculously early (6:30 or 7), this activity usually precluded adults from joining in, but I was always wanting my dad to watch cartoons with me. One morning, in my never ending quest, I pestered him out of dreamland and into the living room in such a stupor that he probably didn’t even know where he was.
At first I thought he might be angry and sullen but, to my surprise, he was suddenly laughing at Heckle and Jeckle (the two wise-cracking crows) right along with me. I was kind of shocked that I could even get him out of bed but now he was sitting there and we were having fun together. Then I pulled out the Oreos and a couple of glasses of milk and we dutifully plowed through the package.
He probably should have realized what a dangerous precedent this was because now I knew he enjoyed himself (even though he only lasted a half hour and then back to bed) and I was emboldened to drag him out of his slumber in subsequent Saturdays. Even though he mostly blew me off, considering he likely went to bed around 3am, every once in a while he’d appease my request and make a brief, but memorable, appearance.
3) Early in the evening, before he’d slip away for the remainder of the night, and while I was still light enough, he’d hoist me up on his lap and we’d snuggle for a few minutes. His specialty was tickling me in the crook of my neck with his day’s growth of beard stubble. This is a classic guy’s goto move and it worked because I’d giggle and squirm and, generally, appreciate the attention. Then he’d read me the jokes out of the Reader’s Digest because there were enough of them at a 6 year old level and because he never turned down the opportunity to entertain.
It’s remarkable how strong that feeling still remains and how many of those goofy jokes I can still recall (why did the man throw the butter out the window?*) but that’s the power of those small moments on a child. What sometimes passes as a inconsequential in an adult can be monumental for a child.
But none of the particulars ever mattered…none of them. I loved them all for a singular reason. I could look over and see my dad eating popcorn with me. I could see him enjoying something and he was doing it with me. Later on I tried to figure out why the barflies at Club 99 might be more interesting than me, but booze was his daddy and I’d have to wait for adulthood to understand that.
(*to see a butterfly!)