My dad passed away in 1986, a little over a month before I turned 17. It was sudden—no long illness—just a massive heart attack in his sleep and he was gone. We were all shocked and devastated. But it’s not my intent to write a depressing blog about that time in my life; it’s my intent to write about what came before.
The two words that always come to mind when I think of my dad are intelligent and funny. Just saying those words on their own, though, doesn’t seem to do him justice. It’s more like “fiercely intelligent” and “ridiculously funny”.
It seemed like my dad had an encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much everything. He was an optometrist, so, as one might expect, he knew a lot about the sciences, but his knowledge of science went way beyond the biology and physics that were necessary for his career. He had a deep love for meteorology and it was clear from the conversations he often had with the television screen that he knew significantly more about the topic than the weather guy on the local news.
But my dad’s knowledge was not limited to science; he seemed equally comfortable discussing history, geography, politics, and literature. He would freely quote the works of William Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe. There were times when we thought that he was randomly spouting gibberish, but we figured out years later that he was reciting passages from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Cantebury Tales off the top of his head. This sort of amazes me to this day, because I was an English Literature major in college, and even when I was actively studying The Cantebury Tales I couldn’t quote it off the top of my head.
My dad did “voices.” When he told a story about real events from his past he gave every character a unique voice. But the interesting part is that rather than attempt to imitate the person’s actual voice, he would give them a voice that better fit their personality and/or the circumstances within the story. This made for much more entertaining reminiscences, as his friends often sounded like Peter Lorre and Cary Grant. (For more thoughts on my dad’s story telling skills click here.)
Another frequent source of amusement from my dad was his spontaneous, topical song parodies. For example, during the 1976 presidential election cycle my dad was depressed by the choice between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as he thought they were both clueless. One night (possibly after a televised debate—but I can’t swear to that) he started singing his own version of the Fiddler on the Roof song “Far From the Home I Love.” He changed the lyric that was originally “Oh, what a melancholy choice this is/Wanting home, wanting him,” to “Oh, what a melancholy choice this is/An idiot, an imbecile.” It was moments like these peppered throughout my childhood, that likely prepared me to work at MAD magazine when I graduated from college.
These days I think of my dad most often when I attempt to wake up my oldest son in the mornings. My son does not wake up easily and when I was a young boy, neither did I. This was a major source of contention between my dad and I, and it used to enrage me that he was so perky in the mornings while I desperately wanted to stay in bed. He used a variety of techniques to wake me up—which I now employ on my own son—including singing, tickling, and anthropomorphizing stuffed animals. The method that used to irritate me the most was when he flicked my earlobes. Because I remember despising that technique so much, I almost never employ it myself. But this morning, in honor of Father’s Day, I decided to try it myself. I went into my son’s room, told him to wake up, and when he didn’t respond, I flicked his right earlobe. He swatted me away and turned over, so I flicked his left earlobe. He swatted me away and turned over again. I chuckled to myself and walked out of the room. I didn’t actually need to wake my son up—I just wanted to honor my dad.