Biff America column:A Father’s Day remembrance
VAIL CO, Colorado
The sun entered the driver’s side window at a low angle, splashing my scowling face; it was not my best look. I felt we were on a fool’s errand and I was a little ticked off. My mate and I were driving up a rough dirt road in Washington’s Cascade Mountains looking for a ski run that we’d seen only with binoculars from a mile away. It was late May, there was good backcountry skiing only a few miles away on a paved road with easy access, but we were there the day before and Ellie wanted a change of scenery.
“Cheer up,” Ellie said, “You’re beginning to look like your father.”
Included in our prenuptial agreement – along with the provision that I would ski until June and Ellie would clean our house any time the Red Sox won the World Series – was that I would not turn into my father.
My dad was a hard-working, moral man but also somewhat of a stinker, a real curmudgeon.
Case in point: His go-to response, to his children, for accident or injury was “Quit your bellyaching. I’ve had worse than that on the end of my tongue.”
Those words were used in reference to anything from a sprained wrist to a ruptured appendix. Whenever my siblings or I would complain about sickness or injury, the old man would bring up the damage his tongue had endured.
When I was too young to appreciate sarcasm, I took the assertion literally and was amazed the guy could still talk.
My sister purposely complained about menstrual cramps once to trick him into saying his tongue had endured worse. When we all started laughing, he knew he’d been had.
So there was not a lot of sympathy emanating from my dad. But I believe he gave us a gift far greater than empathy – perspective.
He was born just after the turn of the century and reached adulthood during the Great Depression; he knew hunger and hardship firsthand. I’m sure he would look back to his life, when he was our age, and wish we knew how good we had it.
Though he married in his late 20s to a woman 10 years younger, by age 40 he had six kids. It didn’t dawn on me until my friends began having children the depth of sacrifice required to feed, clothe and care for even a small family. Trying to put myself in my parents’ (or any parents’) shoes I can only imagine the pressure.
Along with “I’ve had worse than that on the end of my tongue,” he was also fond of saying, “If you’re not having a good time, it’s your own damn fault” and “Children should be seen and not heard.” I really resented that assertion until my friends began having kids.
Mark Twain said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could not stand having the old man around. But when I got 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
I wish I could say that I came to that realization as early as Sam Clemens, but I guess better late than never.
“A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but once.”
My dad stole that from Shakespeare but would use it in reference to dealing with schoolyard fist-fights and trips to the dentist.
He died at age 90 while still holding a valid driver’s license. After he passed, we were cleaning out his ancient Buick to give away and I found a small metal pipe, under the front seat, with duct tape wrapped around one end as a handle. I joked to my brother about our octogenarian father, stooped and frail getting out of his car, pipe in hand, to deal with some roadway altercation. My brother allowed that it would indeed look pretty absurd, but added, “You know the old man – he’d go down swinging.”
My Dad lived long enough for me to get to know him better and for him to get to know my mate. She and I would visit, play cards and eat at his favorite local diner where we would stuff ourselves out of boredom while he would have a hot dog, with nothing on it, and a can of beer.
He said to me once, “Treat that gal well, she’s good-natured, inexpensive to feed and she loves you.” He’d then added, “You are no bag a jewels, so don’t mess it up.”
Right again, Dad …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at BiffAmerica.net.
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