General Dad

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Poor dad; no matter how humble the goal to which he aspired, the path to success was never smooth — and sometimes nonexistent.

Take, for example, a family road trip from Michigan to Tennessee when I was 11-years-old. My father’s approach to car-packing rivaled Eisenhower’s planning of D-Day, yet nothing about packing the car went well. For my father, loading the car that day was like playing a large-scale, losing game of Jenga. He muttered things I wouldn’t understand until 2010 when Alexis Munier gave the world The Big Black Book of (Very) Dirty Words.

We stopped for the night in Covington, Ky. and got a room at a little motel. The next morning my father still had not managed to forgive the universe for the trip’s rocky start. My mother’s name was Phyllis; my father called her Phil.

“You watch, Phil; I’ll open the curtains and there’ll be a foot of snow out there!”

There turned out to be two feet of snow out there … in April.

Once my father dug us out of Covington and we had driven for two hours, it occurred to him he had forgotten his coat at the motel.

Years later, any dreams my father ever harbored of having a daughter who didn’t publicly embarrass him were dashed when I became a theatre and speech major and broke the news to him I’d been cast as a lady of the night in a student production. My father was furious, but swallowed his pride and came to see the play. Afterward he and my mother found me backstage. While I was still in makeup and costume, he tenderly kissed my cheek and murmured, “Sweetheart, you were the prettiest prostitute in the play.”

About four years later, I got myself into a situation where my parents had to get out of bed at 1 a.m. to retrieve me. And no, I wasn’t in jail. I wondered what my father would say once they arrived. He was retired by then and didn’t have to work the next day, but still: 1 a.m. is 1 a.m., and a two-hour drive is a four-hour drive round trip.

When he walked over to me, I looked up at him. He was a tall, handsome man.

“Dad, I’m sorry,” I said. “You and mom drove so far.”

“Honey,” said my father, “I’d drive around the world for you.”

Nothing more was said about it, because my father had made it clear: nothing more needed to be said. If one of his goals had ever been to raise a daughter who loved her parents like crazy, he achieved that goal spectacularly. Eisenhower couldn’t have done it better.


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