My dad and I don’t talk as much as I wish we did, for a lot of complicated reasons. We’ve been in touch more often recently, mostly because my youngest brother has been in and out of the hospital. It’s a shame that we seem to only talk when things are not so good.
My dad is not a big reader. I have more books in my bedroom than he’s got in his whole house, everything confined to two bookcases in the basement. And, even then, my dad’s books are mostly limited to home-improvement reference books and a Time-Life series on Vietnam (with which he is mildly obsessed despite not having served, but he was ROTC in high school and probably would have gone into the army had the decision not coincided with the outbreak of Vietnam and due dates for grad school applications). My stepmother has an uncle who is a prolific published writer, so there’s a shelf of his books, too. But that’s kind of it. And my dad’s stories of having skated through his English classes are the stuff of legend; he’s still kind of proud of the fact that he passed freshman English by flirting with the teacher.
My dad’s real gift is for storytelling. He can spin a yarn like few others can. I’ve heard all of his stories many times, but I’m happy to sit through them again because he enjoys telling them so much. He also makes a point of learning story jokes, and he can keep your interest through a lengthy one and deliver the punchline with aplomb. I think my desire to tell stories must come from that tradition to a degree. (My maternal grandfather also was not much for book-learnin’ but could tell a great story in his Ozarks twang. I used to love to sit and listen to him talk.)
My dad was sick a lot when I was a kid with a chronic illness that has, against all odds, largely gone into remission now that he’s in his sixties. My youngest brother, as it happens, has been diagnosed with the same illness, but I imagine it must offer him some comfort to have Dad around to commiserate with.
I’m grateful that my dad is still around to tell stories. It worries me sometimes that he fudges the details now, mixing up who was involved in the story, but we forgive him some senility and make jokes about his age. I think he finds his inability to recall some details frustrating. But then, when I spoke with him this afternoon, he sounded great, happy and preparing for a busy summer.
I spent a few hours in my favorite neighborhood cafe this afternoon, plugging away at my current WIP. A number of men came in with their kids for lemonade or iced tea (it’s a hot one in New York today). The staff at the cafe was quick to offer all the dads a happy day, which I thought was sweet. I live in a neighborhood with a lot of young families, and it’s not in any way unusual to see men wheeling around strollers.