So, my dad came to visit last week. I had a lot of trepidation because my dad and i haven’t always seen eye to eye on my life choices, and even tho i’ve hit the half-century mark, i still desperately want to please him. I was afraid he wouldn’t enjoy my house, my life, or my company. (I know, i know… After nearly 2 score years of therapy, this should no longer be a cataclysmic issue. I regress now and then; so sue me.) I tossed and turned my nights, and fretted thru my days leading up to it. Now that his visit is over and i’m back to my usual grind, i can honestly say i had a wonderful time and i miss him.
We are very different, my dad and i, but this trip we spent more time sharing the things we both enjoy.
Dad and i are both walkers. We like to stroll and sight-see. So we spent some time doing it together. We took our time around the art district and downtown. We walked my SiriDog, who developed an almost romantic attachment to him. We also spent a day at Chicamauga Battlefield park (If you live in the southeast U.S., and you haven’t been, it is worth the trip.) We had some good meals and conversations. And we made one obligatory Father-daughter trip and went to get some lawn tools for my new house.
After we had the tools, we took an afternoon to work on the yard. The trees and shrubbery were overgrown from the previous owners and were languishing. Everything needed some serious pruning. I was excited to get out there, on the first non-sweltering day of Autumn, and really get things trimmed up.
My son was not quite as enthused.
Armed with our “implements of destruction”, à la Arlo Guthrie, we jumped in. I claimed the hedge trimmers, hoping that the few pushups i do fairly regularly would save my chest muscles from days of pain. (They did not.) My dad took the loppers and started making short order of what i think were once Crepe Myrtles. My son grabbed a rake and started to bitch and moan.
We tried to get him on board by showing a lot of enthusiasm. It was a beautiful day out. The yard was already looking better due to some tree work i had done. And with Dad and i both cutting, a little bit of order was starting to come very quickly. My son, who was armed with a rake, was supposed to be shuttling branches to the street side for pickup. His 14 year old body grudgingly grabbed modest loads and trudged to the street like he was carrying a large anvil thru a swamp of molasses.
My father is a retired cop, so he has even less patience than i do for such lame behavior. In good humor, he makes comments to my son about how he is being out-performed by his smaller female mother and his old grandfather. Each dig gets a response, and each response comes in an octave higher than the one before. Apparently, while i was in the back yard for a moment, my father and son, who were both in the front, had some sort of interchange that caused my son to lose it. Fast forward 15 minutes later, and two police cars come to a stop in front of our house.
The two cops look obviously confused. “Is everything alright?”
“Yup,” i respond. “Just doing yard work. What’s up?”
“We got a call about a death threat…”
My dad makes his way over.
“Someone called and said there was a girl with a rake saying she was gonna kill someone.”
My dad starts to laugh. “Well, you see, his voice hasn’t changed yet, and he was mad because we were making him work…” My son looks mortified as the officers laugh.
“I have a 14 year old boy myself. I know how it is!”
“He’s a good kid” i say, “But if you ever see him out and about being a schmuck, feel free to beat him with your nightstick.”
“She’s only saying that because she knows you’re a good kid and won’t need it, ” the officer replies. We introduce ourselves to each other, make small talk, and then we all go back to what we were doing. But now, while we are working, my dad is trying to explain to my son, who insisted he had done nothing wrong, how that kind of attitude comes off to some people. I am chiming in here and there to back up my dad while intermittently wondering who called the police.
We never did get him to understand, nor did i ever find out who called, but it became a running joke whenever he got loud or obnoxious to remind him that he was now on the cop “watchlist”, so he’d better shape up.
On Sunday, we did brunch with my oldest daughter. She and i have made it a ritual to do brunch a couple of times a month, but it was nice to bring my dad and son into it for the day. Chattanooga is full of incredible eateries, and we took them to one of our favorites. As we expected, it was a delicious meal, and we were able to take our time and really savor everything. After, we still had a few hours before we were to embark on a riverboat cruise (A touristy thing to do, but strangely, in the nearly 2 decades that i’ve lived here, i’ve never done it.) We headed downtown and after a bit decided to grab a cup of coffee before the boat. We walk across the river to be closer to the pier. There are all kinds of coffee houses all over the city, so it shouldn’t have been a problem. Two blocks off the walking bridge, we make our first stop.
Coffee House 1 was packed. Rather than wait, because we need to work off brunch, we walk 8 blocks to coffee house 2, which has gone out of business. 6 blocks to coffee house 3, which wasn’t really a coffee house, but a treat shop, and doesn’t serve coffee. 3 blocks to coffee house 4, which doesn’t have any open tables. They direct us to coffee house 5, 5 blocks away, which turned out to be closed on Sundays. Why on Earth would you close a coffee shop on Sunday???
If i live to be 100, no one will ever trust me to find a cup of coffee again.
We wasted enough time that we need to head to the boat. The cruise was wonderful, and the gregarious guide was full of historic regional tidbits that both informed and entertained. Dad and i are also both interested in History, so we were totally engaged, ignoring the call for Bingo on the lower deck.
My oldest daughter turns to us and says, “I’m going to win some stuff…” and she trots off down the stairs with her brother close behind. Dad and i almost forget they had gone below until they came up a bit later with prizes. Dad says, “You really won?” My daughter mocks offense and says, “You saying i can’t do the Bingo? I can do the hell outta the Bingo! Look what i won!” She shows off a box of gourmet chocolates and a book of a local poet’s prose. We all laugh and lean back in our chairs, enjoying the sights and stories.
Most evenings found us with a glass of wine and a cold plate talking about little things with my son. Just normal stuff. Nothing fancy or noteworthy. Just cheese and salami and conversation. It was enjoyable and comfortable in a way i didn’t expect. It felt “right”. And i admit, i was sheepishly surprised to find the worries i had the week before were unfounded.
Dad may never understand my purchase of shampoo bars to reduce my use of disposable plastics. And i may never understand his need to buy an actual paper newspaper every single day. We may both wince at the sight of each other growing older. We may never appreciate each other’s taste in wine. We may have different versions of the same memories. But that’s ok. We can still eat and walk and joke with my son and do touristy things and spend hours looking for coffee and be cool.
Yup. We can be cool together. How cool is that?