My Dad celebrated his 60-something birthday this past weekend, and I have always been grateful for such a colorful father. I can think of no other person who has had such an influence on the person I have become. My cynicism, frugalness, and political views can be directly traced to growing up with this man. He was a three time state champion wrestler here in Iowa, and his name still decorates the wall of the wrestling room at the high school we both attended.
One of my earliest memories of Dad was bed time. While most parents would read a story, perhaps, or maybe recite a rhyme or two, my Dad had his own special way of tucking me in for the night. When I was about four or five years old I remember Dad putting on the Elvis Golden Hits album, and then he would lie on the wooden floor with his sweaty back, undulating and capturing pockets of air and forcing them out from underneath, making loud flatulent noises in time with the beat of the song.
“Elvis is playing his tuba,” he would say. This would lull me to sleep fairly quickly after recovering from the laughter.
Another great experience living with Dad was playing board games. Certain doom and torment were guaranteed whenever you would grab, say, the Monopoly or Risk game and coax him into playing with you. I give him credit for giving us all fair warning before he agreed to play with us. Risk was Dad’s favorite, and he had a gift for stretching the game out into this painful, endless barrage of pimping and chiding as he rattled the dice in his right hand. He also had this terrible disposition where he would poke his finger in your chest or shoulder and give you a hardy “hee hee hee” every time he advanced into one of the last territories you possessed. No matter what the game was, he would win. This led to the unspoken rule that everyone would have to gang up on this man, trying fruitlessly to defeat him finally – for once. This never happened. I cannot remember any board game with Dad that did not end with every kid in the house crying or yelling about how mean Dad got. He was such a terrible winner too. He would make this long, drawn-out production out of victory that went something like this:
“Stop it, Dad!”
“You mean – I’m the BIG WINNER?”
He had this obnoxious hissing noise he would make, like it was an effort to say the final, irritating taunt.
“If I’m the BIG WINNER, then that makes you…” this is when that finger would point at the nearest victim to which the following final comment that would send the poor soul into a fit of rage.
“That makes you – the BIG LOOSER_ Sssst – Hee Hee Hee Heee!”
Good god – I can’t tell you how many Saturday evenings ended with kids crying, smacking dad’s shoulder with our young fists, and sometimes the game board would go flying across the room, scattering game pieces and cards and dice all over the kitchen.
He also had this routine that never failed. If we were on a road trip and drove by a Dairy Queen, all the kids in the car, of course, would go crazy pointing out to my Father that we were right there on top of the place, to which he would reply, “Dairy Queen? Where? I love Dairy Queen.” He would then wretch his neck around as if he were intently trying to locate the Dairy Queen. Hell – He would squint and keep saying “where? WHERE?” as he hit the accelerator and whizzed right passed the place. The kids would, of course, fly into another tormented rage. This went on no matter what, I guess, but there was something irresistibly charming about this warped sense of humor he showcased at every chance he was offered.
Dad had a small circle of friends that would visit him from time to time. Mostly other cynical teachers from the Drivers’ Ed department. He didn’t care much for regular company and was perfectly comfortable at home watching television or working in the garden or on some pet project. He was incredibly cheap, but that too was just such an art form that you had to cut him slack for. As a result, I am living in a modest story-and-a-half house a block from the house I grew up in, and pay a whopping $430.00 a month for my mortgage. I have never owned a credit card or had a checking account. As a result, I have never been in debt and have enough assets that I am not afraid of being jobless for any long stretch of time. I cannot tell you the last time I bought any item of clothing for myself either. I do, on the other hand, have way too many synthesizers and gadgets that I do consider important.
I am a rabid Democrat and Dad made it easy to vote. He explained that Republicans are spoiled rich kids and that they don’t give two shits about the poor. The best advice I ever got from him was, “As you grow older, you are going to realize that nobody really loves you – But yourself”.