Bill Cosby meets The Rifleman

So, today i’m thinking about my Dad. Father’s Day is coming up. And i’m too old to make him a macaroni covered shoebox full of painted pebbles.

Dad has always reminded me more than a little bit of Bill Cosby (Before all the sex allegation stuff). He has the same sense of humor, same fashion sense, same dance moves. But he also reminds me a bit of The Rifleman. He was a cop and then a detective while i was growing up, and i always pictured him as the star of a crime show that only played in my head. And even tho no one else got to watch the crime show, i liked to brag on his stardom. Especially during the times of my life when i didn’t see him much.

Divorce is a rotten thing. Necessary or not, it leaves flotsom and burning oil slicks in its wake. Eventually, the beach may get cleaned, but it is forever altered. I was young when my parents divorced, so i have few memories of my parents as a couple. I don’t remember the beach when it was pristine, or at least unpolluted. And time spent with my dad which was awkward at times, as history has composted the jetsam, has become easier, and the circumstances, more grounded. As we age, hard for both of us to watch and accept, there are things about him that have become sureties for me and my approach to life:

Some things never go out of style. A classic trench coat, leather loafers, pressed shirts, a good haircut. They never fall out of fashion. Men and women both can use this to their advantage. So i always have a few classic pieces. And no man doesn’t look handsome in a shirt and tie… Even if he isn’t a cop, or in uniform, or carrying a service revolver, or wearing a Trooper’s Stetson. Tho those things definitely add a certain je ne sais quoi.

It’s all about the seasoning. My father is a fabulous cook. Especially with food he has caught hunting or fishing. And he rarely uses anything that isn’t found in the common larder. I presume this is from years of taking his turn cooking in the hunting lodge. That being said, because of my dad, my larder always is fully stocked with, for some others, lesser known “necessities” like bay leaves, juniper berries, and Coleman’s dry mustard. Channeling my dad, i can make a roof tile taste like fresh venison.

On a similar note… When in doubt, talk about the food. If you are ever stuck in a social situation with people you know nothing about, it is always a safe ice breaker to engage the others around you into exploring how the meal was prepared. It carries no controversy and can include all ages without special accommodation. It gets the conversation moving in a pleasant and easy way, unless you happen to be seated at a table with the cast of “Chopped”.

Do your research before spending your money. My father was a Consumer Reports advocate before they were well known. Because of him, before i make a purchase, especially a bigger one, i make a list of what i want and don’t want and then check it on as many “unbiased” reviews as i can. And i actually read the narratives, because their caveat may be my making or breaking point. It has saved me from many an expensive mistake. And it has kept me, more than once, from regrettable impulse purchases.

If you don’t know how to dance to it, go for the soft shuffle. In my mind’s eye, i can see my dad dancing. His lips nearly mouthing his dance mantra, “Disco here, dis go there.” It may not be the right dance. You may be outdated. You may feel silly. You will definitely look goofy. But you’ll be cute and you’ll have fun.

Learn to be comfortable in formal situations. My dad has always been a member of organizations that had requisite formal occasions. It helped inspire me to do the same. In my time in the IORG, i learned how to comport myself in a long gown, speak in front of crowds, address any station. Because of all this, as i got older and got into music, i had an easier time than most singing and performing on stage. When i have met Heads of State and Sheiks, i was not a ball of nerves. I can, with very little sweat, speak off the cuff in front of large groups. And, in probably more of an adaptation than he would have liked, i bought a tux and found it to be the perfect formalwear, enabling me to relax and enjoy something that many people dread. I suppose it’s a strange thing to take pride in, but i’ve always patted myself a bit for that inherited ability to do “Uptown” without fret. Just like my dad.

On road trips, be prepared. Gather your repair kit, your snacks, your maps. Know your route, plan your stops, and take frequent breaks. Yes, i suppose this is a typical “Dad” lesson, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I have taken three day long road trips on my own, and carried with me the knowledge that i was well prepared. It makes a difference. Without the fear and stress of the unknown, the trip becomes much more enjoyable.

Never refuse a cookie that someone has made. It doesn’t matter if it looks like an old buffalo pattie, if you stuffed yourself to the gills at supper, or if you need to be out the door in 5 minutes… Handmade cookies are small tokens of love. Someone took the time to make them. Even if they taste like turpentine-cured hockey pucks, you can stomach just one to let them know you appreciate it. That little smile and “thank you” may be the highlight of their day. And if it is my dad offering you one of his chocolate chip cookies, take a few. They are the best.

Three things require careful cleaning with use: Your kitchen knives, your leather shoes, and your gun. My earliest memories are of my dad cleaning his gun and shining his shoes. The attention he gave to those chores was special, somewhat because of theory behind it, but also because it was a kind of zen thing. Yes, the care of those things is required to keep them in good working order and to make them last. But the repetitive actions of a true shoe shine, the scents and tactile sensations of cleaning a handgun, the sounds of a knife being slid perfectly against a honing steel… They are almost meditative. And they force one to slow down for a moment. Take a break. And still have something to show for it.

“Real men” are still men, even in a pink shirt. My dad looks great in a pink dress shirt. He and i have enjoyed visits to a formal tea room. He has let the other player win. I have seen tears in his eyes. He plays with his fluffy little foo-foo dog. And he has done these things with ownership, unworried about what other men thought or if society frowned on them. Or at least, that is how he carries himself. And that carriage, that posture of doing the softer things with assurance, THAT is what makes a “real man”. Not the color of his shirt. Not the force of his blow. Not the bulk of his bank account. Not the size of his sidearm. It’s the demeanor, the bearing, the manners. A “real man” is a gentleman. Every time i forget this, i regret it. I end up on a date with a caveman.

Some of the best American inventions came from New Haven. My dad has Connecticut pride. A true Nutmegger thru and thru. And he can give you good reasons why his area of The Constitution State is the best. The cotton gin, the first American submarine, the automatic revolver, the phone book and public pay phone, the corkscrew, the lollipop, the hamburger, the erector set, the Frisbee, and the wiffle ball were all invented there. Paul Giamatti, Ernest Borgnine, Norman Lear, Al Capp, Eli Whitney, Charles Goodyear, The Carpenters, Liz Phair, Michael Bolton (Ok, we might want to forget that one)… They are all from the New Haven area. And contrary to what New Yorkers will tell you, American-style pizza was invented there. At Pepe’s. No matter what else you have heard. Really.

When in town, say hello. Even if you don’t have time for a visit, make a quick phone call to let your local ones know that you’re thinking of them. I never used to understand this as a child, but as an adult, there was an older woman, a family friend, who would stop at the house twice a year as she passed thru. Literally for less than an hour. But those quick visits, little more than a cup of tea and a hug, were something i always looked forward to. They made me feel special. And Dad’s advice was finally understood.

Take the time to pick out the perfect card. It is easy to stop by the drugstore and pick out a generic birthday greeting. But i don’t do it. One of my favorite things about my dad is that his cards are always special. They always say just the right thing. They aren’t the kind of card you glance over and toss. You want those sentiments to linger, so sweet and magnanimous are they, that you keep it propped on your bureau til the next one arrives. Yes, it’s a little thing. But also a big thing. Time is a precious commodity, sometimes even more so than money; so knowing he took that time to find something that makes me feel good means a lot. I try to give that same attention to others.

Different people teach us different things. Some are full of emotional wisdom, others are more practical. Like many Dads, mine leans more towards the practical. There are, of course, other things i have learned from him, but these are a few of the more pronounced in my memory. Father’s Day seems like a good reason to write them. It’s not as sweet as a macaroni covered shoebox, but maybe it’s a decent substitute. Now, if you’ll pardon me, i have to go card hunting….

 

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