Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father Daze

This is my first fatherless Father’s Day. Last year we dined with my Dad, Aliki, his three grandchildren and great granddaughter at the Cobalt Café. The restaurant site, some fifty years ago, was Economy Films, the precursor to Budget. I was facing a lumpectomy that week. We hadn’t yet sent the e-mail which led to tracking down Himself’s birthmother. Now Dad is gone, although his snack size containers of applesauce linger in the Budget fridge. It wouldn’t break my heart if someone threw them away but I can’t bring myself to do it. My breast lump was benign but yet another friend had less favorable results and has endured chemo and two surgeries in recent months. We found and infuriated the birthmother but she came around with grace and love and we will be spending the 4th of July with her and her husband in San Francisco.

We attended Spud’s' school year end performance, which showcased barefoot children in black, playing strings, singing in Latin and gibberish and dancing very modernly on the theme of Dante's Inferno. I tried to get himself good and liquored up before but had only time to get about a pint in him (beer--a pint of vodka might have done the trick). The 90 minutes of atonality was punctuated by his derisive grunts and hangdog body language. My beloved did not receive the "good sport" medal. Last year Spud’s appearance in the show, which marked the culmination of a year of theatre arts study, consisted of him imitating a chicken for less than five seconds. The school has discontinued the theatre arts program and now Spuds majors in dance. He was cut, without explanation, from two dances he’d been assigned and so the climax of one year of intensive dance study was only a brief and interstitial moment. He walked across the stage, like a human, not a chicken, leading sort of a desultory conga line of children who had been apparently been directed to "act sad."

Some of the kids can really dance but the modern stuff (sans joy and melody and not ready for sex) doesn’t really showcase their talents. The school accomplishes amazing things with string instruments, having been founded by parents of violin and cello prodigies. These kids are brilliant and it is understandable that they dominate the string performances at these big year end extravaganzas. I find it curious that these same children seem to appear rather disproportionately in the dance numbers too but maybe when I start my school, Spuds and Leo will be the superstars, just ‘cause. I like the folks who founded the school. They are smart, hard working women and have given me incredibly helpful advice and great support. That said, the school, is a town without pity. One of the carpool girls is a terrific dancer. Her Grandma died two weeks before the performance and she missed a week of school when she was in Florida for the funeral. Her part was eliminated and she simply remained home for the week of rehearsals and the performance.

I hope that I am not on the verge of ghettoizing myself as a critic of local performances which feature children. While the children’s theatre serves the creative fulfillment of adults to a goodly extent, at least the kids have fun and lots of it. The annual school performance, while it does showcase the virtuosity of a chosen few, is remarkably and doggedly fun free. The rehearsals are strict and if your grandma dies, you are shit out of luck, or, in Spuds case, even if your grandma doesn’t die.

We headed down to Leisure World to take my beloved’s ninety-one year old father and sister to celebrate Father’s Day at the Mission Viejo Claim Jumper, a restaurant choice we arrived at utilizing sophisticated diplomacy. We’d suggested Yard House and they’d countered with Olive Garden. We tried the old man once at a non-chain restaurant but it had an Oriental motif and Asian staff and he freaked and refused to eat anything. When we returned from our little retreat a few weeks ago, I found a quite nasty message from him complaining with bitter sarcasm that Himself was apparently too busy to call him. I erased it immediately but nagged my husband to call his father. My father-in-law is nearly deaf and has few interests in common with my husband. My husband makes cursory conversation with his dad and then hands the phone off like a hot potato to patient, Republican, sports loving Spuds.

My father-in-law speaks in that ear splittingly loud way that is favored by the hard of hearing. He brought a small American flag in his pocket to the restaurant and waved it in our faces as he noted that it would have been his sixty seventh anniversary, his wife’s birthday and Flag Day. Himself was gifted an anthology of Art Linkletter anecdotes, a tribute his dad saw as befitting his apparent love of reading. The old man launched into an exegesis stating that Mother’s Day is a more significant holiday than Father’s Day, because, "a man may work from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never done."

I do let myself feel put upon. I remember with shame at one point while we were unloading groceries at the end of a long day, I nearly physically cornered Himself and began to recite each of appointments to which I had transported our children in a single week. And yet, my beloved brings us books and while we both work very hard we both take the time to read them. He spends many an hour taking our kids to the library and actively participating in the their intellectual and aesthetic development. He encourages their curiosity and he takes out the garbage and feeds the dogs and washes the dishes and even tries to make the bed in the most retarded way anyone could ever imagine. And while he attends the kids’ performances more than a little grudgingly, he does attend them, and he drives them to appointments and haggles with their teachers when his schedule permits. He still won’t turn on the fucking cell phone, but he has grown beyond the role his own (distant) father felt relegated to.

For the family shabbat movie this week we chose The Squid and the Whale and we laughed our heads off at the way the literature PhD, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, reminded us of Himself. The professor let his son’s girlfriend chip in cash for her own dinner and forbade the use of paper towels. Himself is frugal like this and also like the character, prone to dismissing the life works of respectable authors he happens to dislike with a single cruel grumble. Our kids often express their critical opinions with derisiveness and perhaps at times they sound a bit pedantic but I think it’s better for all of us to have a cheapskate dad with ludicrously high literary standards who doesn’t know how to make a bed but who loves us and is generous with his time and has transcended old notions of what a father is supposed to do and takes pleasure in watching our minds soar.

I miss my dad. He liked beautiful clothes and I always tried to find him something nice. He liked eating out and we would have gone to his favorite mediocre Chinese restaurant or his favorite mediocre deli or perhaps a place of my choosing which he wouldn’t like as much as the predicable places of his own comfort zone. Instead I have used some of the coin that would have gone to feting my own dad and splurged on some orange roughy from the pricey but superior farmer’s market fish monger and Spuds toiled long and hard over a complicated Boston Cream pie which has been photographed as the illustration for this entry. The fifteen year old has magnanimously agreed to sort out his father’s CD collection but I suspect this project will go fallow after he has located all of the titles he wants to transfer to his own IPOD.

The father of my children is not gregarious, has no interest in barbecuing and would never be called the life of the party, unless every one of the other guests was indeed literally dead. But, in his quiet way he has showered these children of mine with affection and attention and they will be better people for having been blessed with his love. I know that all of the love he has poured out to our boys will be returned to him by them but it will also enrich their own future relationships. Fathering was a brave new world for my beloved. Who he is, and the time we live in, and his courageous openness have resulted in the abandonment of the blueprints our own fathers fathered us by. My husband will reap a rich and loving relationship with both of his boys and how sweet it is to know that the love he’s poured out will come back and that it will pass beyond us to, God knows how many, future generations.
Happy Father’s Day.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

Thank you so much for this heartfelt tribute. That "life of the party" line is a classic, and I will assume it's an original one and not lifted from the many books I find for you to peruse and to augment your already well-barbed wit and cunning cleverness. Not to mention your inherited array of perplexing interpersonal relationship skills.

By the way, The York despite its fine fare served not pints but only 12 ozs., which I found skimpy considering the usual. Pure Luck's a better bargain! That's why I was so antsy-- not enough libation. And, those chairs are impossible to sit in, not to mention that Carmina Burana chant. Medieval and Dante I can handle, but not atonal assault. Leave that for my droning postpunk.

Again, may I acclaim Niall and your pie, if Boston Cream is not a cake, and Leo's assorting CD's I tried to handle with paternal grace as his attempt to help himself while getting an incentive to spend even more time at the computer than he already does.

You and I can understand his musical obsession, his powers of manipulation, and his clumsy attempts at affection, however! They all come from Dad, I guess. And, thanks to your affection and love and irony, they enrich my life so much more than I could have predicted when, at the gate of the Owl House spring '92, you waited to give me the news of his conception. xxx me