Sunday, March 8, 2015

Selling Fatherhood



My dad prided himself on the new sound system sitting in our living room. It was packed with power, it had a turntable, a tape deck, and the newest feature, a compact disc player. When people would come over, he would ask them if they had ever heard Bocelli in surround sound and crank it higher than was necessary. Then, it would watch your reaction to what you were hearing rapt, looking for that moment when your mind was blown though really it might be your eardrums bursting from the carefully maintained equalizer.

Each Christmas, we would spend it with the extended family. His three brothers and their families would often congregate at our house or at my aunt's house not bound by the constraints of the sheer number crammed into our confines with an overflowing mound of presents so deep we could barely see the Christmas tree. As a family we would attend The Nutcracker around Christmas time together. We would get dressed up and attend and afterwards, return to the house where my father immediately walked over to the sound system and popped in The Nutcracker Suite. He left the room and headed to his bedroom.

What happened next changed my perception of my dad forever. He reemerged wearing only his long underwear and pranced around like a ballerina, pirouetting like only an ungraceful man can do. I never laughed so hard in my life. He quickly bowed and exited stage left down the hallway while we cheered "Encore! Encore!"

He is like that with almost everything still. Growing up in his house meant he would draw attention to experiences and people, never the things you had or wanted. Meals made by him would become "the best tacos I ever had" and he would sell them to you like you were a customer at his food truck instead of sitting at his kitchen table.

Family vacations were about adventures. Like that time he took us to California and just had to show us the La Brea tar pits which for some reason were closed. He insisted despite the warning sign that we take a picture to prove we were there and to pose like we were actually disappointed.

My dad never wore shorts. For the longest time I wasn't sure if he even owned a pair Even at Disney World he was in slacks and a business casual, button down with no tie making calls on the payphone between rides. He'd fit those calls in when he could furiously scribbling notes into a tiny book while he did that he kept on his clients, the early version of a pocket sized cell phone.

My dad was and still is a salesman in every way. He will still try to get you to eat the last hot dog though you protest that you don't have room for it yet somehow you will eat it in the end. As a kid, I remember how he shook hands with everyone he met and how he looked them in the eye when he did. He never forgot anyone's name and would call people out from behind desks to show me or my brothers off.

He wasn't the dad sitting by the pool with the paper barely paying attention. He's the dad on top of the inflatable alligator that my younger brother and I insisted that we had on vacation for the hotel pool. He's that guy on top of the statue with all four of his boys unafraid of looking foolish because he is just being a dad. He's not the dad sitting idly on the couch watching from afar. He's the dad on the floor, in the trenches, playing with his kids.

He's the same guy who led a rousing rendition of On Top of Old Smokey in front of numerous other people at Lost Land Lake that while probably fueled by a few Leinenkugels demonstrated that he wasn't about to shy away from showing me what happens when a man takes charge of his dadliness.

He showed me how to be a dad without website and parenting blogs telling him how to make that happen.  I suppose that's why I emulated him with my own children remembering how he would lay on the floor and help me put my GI Joe toys together while listening to an AM radio that was never an arm's length away.  The way he cared for us, the way he played with us, and the way he loved us was the perfect example of what it meant to be a dad.

He still is the same dad to this day with my own children. They know that Grandpa B will do anything for a laugh.  He dresses up in goofy costumes, plays inside pop up tents, and is still down there on the floor even if sometimes now that ends in a nap on the couch. He has earned it.

Now, in the play kitchen he's still trying to sell those fake chicken nuggets to my youngest daughter but it is me who is buying today and every day from him as his best customer. A long time ago, he sold me on fatherhood hook, line, and sinker.



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