Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day, also know as my dad's birthday, has arrived.

We tried to get reservations at Brennan's, which recently reopened, in honor of my husband, the father to our sweet child, but they were booked solid. So we will have to make do with a barbecue and poolside celebration at Justin's house across the to whip up something for that. Note to self...

I must say that the men in my life have left the outward firebrand stuff to us women. In my family, we women are an emotional bunch, myself included. Not to say that the men don't have their moments. My father recently overheard a phone conversation I was having with the secretary of my son's pediatrician in New York, one in which I had to spell "New Orleans" and in which I established that a request to transfer my son's medical records to his pediatrician down south had apparently never been received. His unbridled id let loose and he exclaimed in the background, loud enough for the secretary to hear, that what she was telling me was bullshit. Plus, "Who doesn't know how to spell New Orleans?!?!!!?"

"I don't have to take this, " the secretary said. "He's a very nasty man."

Oh, honey, I wanted to say, you have no idea.

When Dad has a bee in his bonnet about something, he will move heaven and earth to help. Deep down, he's a big softy. When my mom would lay down the law with me in terms of punishment, it was Dad who would try to break through that a little. When Mom told me I couldn't go to a showing of Rocky Horror with my high school friends after a dance, it was Dad who, when picking me up from said dance, drove us by the movie theater to see if any of my friends were hanging out. When I went to a clothing store with Dad to get one trendy piece of clothing (trendy for eighth grade), it was Dad who asked me if I was sure I wanted anything else, wallet opened to the ready, even though the trendy dud had cost fifty bucks.

Dad was the one who, in grade school, would turn all my friends upside down. It was a major attraction of overnights or of having friends over, having him pick them up and make all the blood rush to their heads. Seven to ten year olds love that stuff. He used to swing me from his arm like I was a monkey, until the day I let go and fell on my head - right in front of my grandmother.

Dad would introduce me to culture on occasion - I watched 8 1/2 and The Seventh Seal with him once we got a VCR. We ate out regularly at Japanese places where we were the only Caucasians in the place, we had a favorite French place where I first tasted escargot, we had good Indian food on a regular basis at restaurants and at home when post-docs in my dad's lab brought some for parties, and we found a Chinese food place where my dad got the cooks to make the food like we were in Sichuan. Best chicken I've had, though my mouth was swelling up from the spices. I got to know the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, the Band, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, the Fugs, and other great bands and music makers from his record collection...but he still hasn't forgiven me for partially ripping the banana off his Velvet Underground and Nico album. Dad, now that I love the Velvets so much, I know why you're ticked...but I was into scratch and sniff at the time, and it was so tempting...

My dad would also make sure, as I got older, that I was making choices in my life that were right for me, and would sustain me. His competitive streak manifested itself in me in this aspect of life - if I set my mind to something, I was going to be the best at it. Dad helped me with college selection, his softy side letting me apply to one art school where my mom had forbidden me to apply to such places. He went on a college visit with me to Smith and came away from it wanting to go there himself...but he held himself down and went over the considerations with me. Was the college awarding BFAs? What would provide the better background for me if I wanted to have an art career or a career teaching art? When my brother went through the college shuffle recently, I know that Dad did the same for him. It's what's made my dad a successful lab manager and grant writer all these years.

Of course, Dad's bullheadedness can be detrimental to himself as well as others. Ticked that, because an electric bill was a little late, the power company sent out a disconnect notice for the first time, Dad decided not to pay the electric bill for a while. The nanny we had for my brother at the time had to repeatedly head off the power company employees when they entered our backyard to try to cut our power. She deserved some combat pay for that one.

Dad was a one to two pack a day smoker for a number of decades, thinking his good genes would help keep him alive and well into his nineties, as it did for his ancestors. He would even smoke almost to spite all of us who were trying to get him to quit - I gave up on convincing him a long time ago to quit, because it was like beating one's head against a wall. Good, Dad, real good...especially since he does cancer research. A recent bout with chemo once they found cancer in one of his lungs convinced him to quit...and left us all with that "I told you so" stuck in our throats, because, deep down, we believed in his invincibility, too. As if to put that supposed invincibility in relief, he also got some major government grants at a time when the money was and is shrinking for such things. He would be recovering from his treatments in his office and deciding how many people to hire for the next year. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

Aside from being overly tired, and having lost some hair, Dad weathered it all okay - thus far. However, he will always be a cancer survivor, not to mention a survivor of some tumultuous times. And now that my brother is graduating and attending Dad's alma mater, to boot, my grandmother worries about what Dad will do with himself now that his "partner in crime", so to speak, is heading out from the house and leaving behind an empty nest.

I personally see no need for worry.

Dad has always had a penchant for throwing himself into all kinds of hobbies. Wine collecting, gardening, model train building and collecting, and building computers, not to mention close study of cars and new technology, have all been things he has pursued with zest and a sense of competition, even. Aside from possibly getting more sleep, I think something else will come along that will ignite those creative and competitive fires within him once again. He might still be somewhat involved with my brother's lacrosse league in some capacity, though my brother will have moved on. He'll still be checking out the car magazines and building the computers. In the past few years, both my parents have been developing a cooking repertoire, with the help of the Internet, Food Network, and some good grocery stores in their area. I'm proud to report that Dad was thoroughly enjoying using his birthday smoker to do its thing to some brisket, and he was simultaneously grilling some lobster outdoors and happily directing my mom and my brother on preparing the rest of the menu while talking to me on the phone.

Happy birthday, Dad. And many more! There'd better be...

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