Fathers

There is a box on the kitchen table. Flat, just under a foot long, and gift wrapped as if by an apoplectic crocodile. There is no question as to the contents of this box on this day in June. There never is. It is a tie. The annual difference is only width or length, wideness of stripes or plaids, boldness of colors, or the peculiar material that flitted briefly as defined by the Botany 500 catalog (I’m looking at you, knitted sock tie).

Dad. Dad received a tie because Dad needed many ties. Dad knows this. Looking back on it now, I can see the day unfolding as they so often did with a scattershot breakfast: Mom first, my sister, Dad, then me, many hours later with the cold bacon and clean up duty. By then, Dad had run off on a mischievous errand that was most certain to achieve one of the following:

  1. Mom going through the following set of outbursts brought to you buy the extemporaneous purchase of a yellow (yellow!) Pontiac Firebird:
    1. laughter
    2. confusion
    3. rage
    4. indignation
  2. The children ruining within less than 2 hours that which Dad has returned with, featuring items such as:
    1. A Bose 901 speaker system
    2. The VCR
    3. The Yellow Pontiac Firebird
    4. Tennis
  3. New Golf Clubs
  4. A time-share in Florida

His return, after the dust settled, meant it was time for Some Kind of Grilling™, no matter what time it was, and the sampling of beer by me while my Dad pretended not to notice as he fussed with burgers, pork chops, or the shucking of corn. Later in life I’d occasionally come across the sip immaculata that reminded so much of those stolen moments and a first glimpse of an ever-waxing nostalgia for simple things, or at least the impression that things were easy.

Dinner would be fast. Mother would make us all sit for 20 minutes. 25 maybe. Dad would pretend not to remember it was Father’s Day and say he needed to mow the lawn, clean the gutters, dig a moat, and Mom would loudly object and “the kids have something for you,” while the tie and another more expertly wrapped tie (sister), sat with a card from her. From his wife. Addressed to “Bear,” a name I never heard them say, but often saw on envelopes containing cards I never was allowed to view. I loved this secret and that they shot a look to one another or tried not to, but did anyway, and Mom would gather herself and suggest he open our gifts. The next hour would be spent with negotiations over which tie my father would wear to work the next day and who would get what for being slighted and how it would impact next year and where we would get to go to college as a result.

There were days like these. Father’s Days. I thought that they were for him, that Dad’s needed to be rewarded, thanked and reminded that they are loved. I thought, at times, that it was a burden for us all, that no one really cared, especially him, and that we should just not bother at all since he, of all people, didn’t really want any of the attention. As it turns out, those days were for me. For us. Because as my Dad now sits in a care and research facility for Alzheimer’s patients, and as we all struggle with how to manage, how to manage him, and how to manage this life when things happen to people that deserve more, or better, I want those days. Your endearing and everlasting gift to my sister and me were those days when you were allowed to be you, and we thought you were having a laugh. You worried 364 days a year about providing a better and safe life for us, but for a few hours every year we all saw you as a teenager, as a single man without a family, as the kid your own father worried about, and the kid inside it all, draped in ties.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.