where creative minds can interact
I’m not sure how to write about who my father is in a way that will be clear enough for others to understand how incredible he is. He is crazy—but the good kind of crazy. He is generous. He is compassionate. He has always given me the space to explore and believe things that didn’t line up with what he believes. He is always on “my side” even when he is trying to give me information that will help me see things in a different manner.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old. I never remember a moment in time when his not living in the same house equaled him not being present in our lives. He picked us up every Friday evening that I can remember, and showed up during the week when the occasion warranted. We had very little money, and the time was spent very creatively. He made choosing our tv dinner for the evening at the grocery store into an exciting decision. We spent lots of time at the park. He would lie on his back in the grass and pretend to be the sleeping monster. The three of us would take turns sneaking up on him…pinching a toe…putting a finger in his ear (or his nose)…and darting away as he grumbled and changed positions “in his sleep.” He would eventually “wake up” and grab one of us by the ankle. We would scream in terror and delight. The other two were then responsible for “rescuing” us from the monster. We played kickball, football, soccer, wiffle-ball, hockey, and games we made up as we went along. On rainy days it would be backgammon and Parcheesi. He also realized (long before there were any guidelines for divorced dads) that we each needed time with him without the others. We called these “all by myself” turns. As we got older and more interested in our friends, he let us bring them along on our weekends. Of course, more kids meant bigger teams for all the crazy games.
He married my stepmother Joan when I was 12 years old. I watched him parent my two step-brothers in a way their own father never managed to do. He realized that by doing this he had to step lightly as their own father wasn’t “gone,” just not very good at the role of father.
When he realized that dinner time meant that Joan would jump up from the table and fetch things after we had starting eating—leaving her food untouched while we were heading our separate ways, he instituted a rule that “Joan has to take the first bite.” Any infractions of this rule resulted in a “penalty” to be served standing behind one’s chair watching everyone else eat for a number of minutes determined by the severity of our actions.
We went on vacations every summer. The seven of us would pile into the car and drive to the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. We still had little budget for vacation, but we would hike up mountains in state parks, stop along the highway pullout for a picnic lunch and then change into swimsuits and splash in whatever river the road was following. As finances improved, we would take trips to Disneyworld…initially on the cheap, staying in off-site motels. We would show up at the park at dawn…before the gates even opened. When the gates opened, we were urged to ignore all the shops and distractions near the park entrance, and ran like crazy to the other side of the park. I am sure there were more than a few times when we were on the first trains boarded at Space Mountain. One of the last big trips we took to Disneyworld was after a good financial year. I was in college, and the other four in high school. We were each generously allowed to bring a friend on the trip, and this time we stayed in the Contemporary Hotel with a monorail stop inside the building.
He is creative and silly and not afraid to show it. One Christmas morning when I was scheduled to work, he came walking down the hallway in the hospital…wearing furry bear claw slippers and reindeer antlers with lights. He was carrying a cake for me and the other nurses on shift.
I had moved to my college dorm early one year and then left for a family reunion. My (as yet unmet) roommate moved in while I was out of town. I returned to the dorm to find a note: Big Herbie called. He wants you to call him back. PS—Who the hell is Big Herbie? When he mailed me my allowance in January one year, it was in a card that said, “Wishing you a very good new year.” Next month, the check arrived in an identical card with “new year” scratched through and “February” written instead.
Over the past couple of years, Poppa has played trumpet with three different groups: “Sentimental Journeys” a band that plays oldies, his church group, and 3 Foot Swagger—a loud band of kids in their 20’s and early 30’s. He looks at home and at ease in all three groups.
Yesterday Poppa left for an adventure. He is now retired, but at age 71 not yet ready to shift to a life of sitting in a recliner with the remote control in his hand. He is in New Orleans and has very little in the way of plans. He may be eating beignets at the Café du Monde at the moment I am writing this. He will to choose a corner and play his trumpet for passers by in the French Quarter. Other than that, he is just going to see what happens.
I love that he is still embracing life, looking for new adventures, and making choices that others might think are a bit kooky. I can only hope that I am doing the same 25 years from now.