It’s a stall tactic, I know.
“Tell me a story, daddy.” Five words. Sometimes worth 45 minutes. It pushes back bedtime, yes, but it’s also engagement with my face, not a screen. Their pop, not an app.
I know this. We don’t always appreciate our dads’ stories, sacred, profane and otherwise. Until that day we can’t hear them anymore.
What we learn from dad stories is profound.
I know about the brother my dad never met, Ismael, who died in a car wreck. I know about my dad’s close encounter with the military recruiting office during the Vietnam War.
I know that my dad, a skinny kid with sideburns, tried out for the Robertson (N.M.) Cardinals High football team, and lasted one day. One hit. A hit that knocked the snot out of him.
Through those stories, I know about my grandparents, who died before I was born.
I know that they died in a car accident involving a train. I know that no one knows for sure how it happened, but the bumper on my grandpa’s car hooked to a moving train as they waited at the crossing.
Grandma must have told grandpa to back up a little, some family members say. You’re too close. Maybe he put the car in drive instead of reverse. Who knows?
I know that my uncle ran a gas station in New Mexico. On summer days, the New Mexico sun bakes everything its rays can reach. Weary travelers found their way into his store, looking for a brand of soda called Fresca.
“Todos estan frescas!” he’d say. They’re all fresca. Because in Spanish, fresca means “cold.” All the drinks – Coke, Nehi, Fresca – were cold. Because, of course.
I know my dad and his brothers and sisters were unimaginative when it came to pet names. When a black dog came around, he was Blackie. A brown dog, Brownie. A white dog … you get the picture.
Everyday life. A few profound moments. My dad told me about a lot in words, and deeds. More than appears on this page. Because that’s the other part – the filter. The editor. What do I remember, and what do I forget? Is it a conscious decision?
What do I tell again to my kids, and what parts do I embellish?
Embellish is the relish. It’s how a snow flurry becomes a blizzard. How as 20-foot jumpshot becomes a half-court heave. How that everyday cheerleader became cheer captain. Because now, it’s my turn.
It’s my turn when kids have gone into extra time for bedtime, dragged their feet and taken side roads on their way to going to bed.
It’s my turn when we’re in the car and a Simon and Garfunkel song comes on. And it takes me back to being 7. Maybe on a contemplative on a Sunday night in my grandma’s backyard. Long after the NFL games are over and the tortillas are no longer hot.
I use every ray of sunshine to throw a white plastic football on the roof. I make pretend I’m Steve Largent or Pat Tilley or Lydell Mitchell making that game-changing grab. Everyday life.
Or maybe it’s the Independence Day when my mom went inside to answer the phone and came out in tears. “Junior’s son drowned in New Mexico,” she said with her hand over her mouth. Losing a cousin my age had such a profound impact on every year of my life since that day. I didn’t understand why there were fireworks that night still. With every birthday and milestone, Raymond is on my mind.
It’s camping trips so high in the Rockies the radio wouldn’t tune and the trees wouldn’t grow. It’s my sister, in trouble, when she played the rhyme game with the word “tuck.” It’s me, writing that same bad word on a worksheet for school to make my classmates laugh.
(Who knew my parents could still see it, even after I’d erased it and rubbed out the spot with pencil?)
It’s my first pet, my first crush. It’s the trouble my sister and I got into, and how my mom woke us up for school. It’s standing up to a bully in sixth grade, taking a dive when he punched me.
And meeting the girl who became my first kiss when she helped me to the office.
It’s stories about the day they were born and how I met their mother. It’s my many failures on the athletics field before they came along and made things right. It’s how my grandma treated me with such kindness.
And still it evolves. They want to know about fights I got into with my sister. (One that explains a scar on her chin, another that involved a punch to my belly and her slipping on a slice of processed cheese.)
They haven’t asked yet about the day my father died. Or how it felt to see him in the hospital. Or how it feels to lose a job or a dear friend. How I’ve coped with a broken heart or a broken hand or a broken handle on life.
Maybe they’ll never ask those things. Maybe they will. I have to remember, too, it’s not just the tales we dads tell them that make up this tapestry. It’s the ones we create with them.
On a lakeshore. On the pitch in the waning moments of a crushing defeat. Couchside, when puke bugs hold us down for the count and the only thing left to save us is Powerade and Netflix binge sessions on Bones.
My dad stories will also be those untold, only lived. When I’ve lost my cool or found my groove. They’re watching, these girls. And formulating the stories.
And if they want to stay up late and talk about it?
Daddy’s wide awake.
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This post by Kitt Crescendo inspired this post.