Thursday, July 24, 2008

Characters Welcomed

My dad and I have a very complicated history, so choosing this month's particular topic as my inaugural post on "Blog Me a Tale" probably wasn't the smartest way to go, but anyone who knows me understands I rarely take the easy way out.

Well, to start, my dad's a real character - so much so that if I'm ever missing him, there are a couple of TV reruns I can watch to feel as if he's right there in the room. I swear people, he's a cross between George Constanza from "Seinfeld" and Louie DePalma from "Taxi."

Don't believe me? Here's a slew of fact-imitating-fiction moments I've collected in my dusty brain box:

- When he went to the movies, if anyone had the nerve to sit in front of him, he'd start this pretend hacking cough that sounded worse than a TB hospital ward, accompanied by snorting, wheezing, and the occasional saliva spray mist. It worked every time.

- He has an overactive fear of sharks after watching "Jaws" back in the 70s - so much so that when he drives by the ocean, he double-checks the locks, because as he says, "You just never know now do you."

- My dad can't stand the sound of liquid being poured into a glass. It makes him nuts. I've even seen him leave a room or turn up the volume on the TV just to block out the sound.

- Ever wonder what kind of people actually bother to call those 1-800 numbers on the back of the label if they're dissatisfied with a product? Yep, that would be him. He's also the one who regularly writes Letters to the Editor, and - if some lowly employee makes the mistake of giving him lackluster service - he'll loudly complain to the manager, and if STILL not satisfied with the results, he'll start a letter campaign to the head of the company until he gets what he wants.

Oh and hell hath no more trecherous fury if that complaint is disability-related (he has MS and uses a scooter)...he'll do all of the above PLUS write about you in his syndicated disability-rights column. And if you're STILL not giving him a proper reconcilatory response, he's going to report you to the Better Business Bureau and call his local Congressional representative and put them on your case as well.

And to answer your question: Yes, he's retired. From what? Accounting and law. Explains a lot actually ;-)

- This is a man with a law degree, two master's degrees, and a slew of professional accolades. He used to travel all over the place and he's dined in some of the most recognized restaurants in the world (although he could care less about that stuff now). His column on disability-rights is syndicated and can be seen in papers across the country. Yet he still thinks it's the most hysterical thing when he asks you, "pull my finger."

- No surprise, "Blazing Saddles" is one of his favorite movies of all times. And he knows he's a lot like the aforementioned characters George and Louie - and he actually gets off on the comparison.

While some of you may think I'm slamming my dad with these stories, I promise I say them with love. It's true that growing up I would have much preferred one of those "Daddy's Little Girl" fathers, but one of the lessons I have learned from my relationship with my dad is to love and accept people for who they are, not for whom you want them to be. And I'm not going to rehash all the bullshit from the past, because we've reconciled, and I've made peace with that. And the most valuable aspect of forgiveness that I've learned is to let go of the pain and to stop rehashing all the things a person has done wrong before. That is a defamation of spirit for everyone and unworthy of our best selves.

My dad taught me many things, such as no matter how magical a time from the past was, you can never go back. He taught me the importance of a good work ethic and follow-through. I learned how to debate like a lawyer, and the value of bullheaded tenacity. My dad told me until you see what people do, the rest is lip service. I inherited my father's looks (in blonde version), his passion for music, and his need for regular, isolated down-time. I have also learned through the years I can come to him with any problem at any time, and he will be there. He's a master in a crisis.

Like many children, I thought my dad was an invincible force growing up. He could recall conversations like a stenographer, he was a demon on the racquetball court, and he could occasionally predict the future. Seeing him struggle with multiple sclerosis has been mind-blowing, to say the least. Now, my dad needs a scooter to get around, his recall isn't quite as razor-sharp, but his mind is still quick. In fact, he has mellowed considerably, and I am so grateful that his symptoms have stayed about the same for a while now. I am enjoying my relationship now with my dad more than I have ever in my life, and while I would never wish this illness on anyone, I wonder what role it has played in our reconnection. Or maybe all this just comes with age and maturity on both our parts. I suspect that the happiness he has found with my stepmother, Sy, may also be a larger contributor than I would have previously credited.

I also learned things in spite of him, by watching his mistakes and trying not to let the sins of the father become my regrets. I have triumped and failed on many of those. My dad's a tough nut to crack, so I try to be open and trusting. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and to not hold a grudge. I let the little things go and I try not to plan every moment of life anymore.

I mention these foibles not to bring him down, but to show him as the complicated person he is - that we all are. When I hear people give these verbal portraits of their parents as these perfect people, I tend to think they don't know them very well. Because our parents are just like everyone else...they're human.

And while we lose our hero-worship by getting to know our mothers and fathers as they truly are, we gain a more nuanced, three-dimensional picture in return - one we can at least attempt to pick and choose what is to be passed down and what should be cast aside.


Girl With Curious Hair said...

How did anyone in your house ever drink anything?

Ms. Jewess said...

He pours all liquids as if they're beer - down the inside of the glass and not straight down the middle.