Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Random Ramble About My Dad

I know Father’s Day is long over, but I’ve been thinking about my dad lately. He was only 22 when I was born, and so is still a relative youngster at 57. At only about 5’6”, he’s the perfect height for me to dance with (I’m nearly 5’2”), but my mom won’t wear heels to go out with him, and he only comes up to my sister’s shoulder. I have his round face and soft brown hair, and seem to be following his pattern of graying, rather than my mom’s. I don’t have his moustache, though. Or his blue eyes.

He’s a tool and die maker, which means he works in a machine shop with lathes and things, making tools and bits and parts out of metal. He went to our school system’s vo-tech program in high school and then did the whole apprentice/journeyman thing. He wears jeans and canvas chinos to work, and long-sleeves even in the summer, beneath a heavy denim apron, to protect him from the bits of flying metal. His work boots often have metal shavings lodged in them, which have scratched my mother’s hardwood floors more than once.

He works for money rather than for love of the job, but he likes it well enough. He’s good at what he does, and he’s a reliable as the sunrise. In addition to the work things, he makes various car parts for himself and his cronies. It’s cars that he really likes, you see. Not the computerized, fiberglass “pieces of junk” we drive today, though. No way. He likes real cars, with real motors, which he can fix and rebuild to his heart’s content. He’s working on a 1932 Ford right now, and it lives in his great big garage, which also houses a Jeep, a sedan, an old refrigerator (the avocado one that was in the kitchen in the 70s) for beer, pop, water, and extra food during the holidays, and a lathe, an air-compressor, several jacks, various welding masks, and more car stuff than you could ever imagine. The garage is detached from the house, but has its own furnace so he and his pals can be out there in comfort all year. It smells like a mixture of motor oil, primer, and putty, and the scent never fails to make me happy. He has a radio and CD player (his taste in music runs to the . . . pre-Elvis era), and a sign that says, “Smoking Permitted Here”. I swear that if he’d install a toilet he would never need to enter the house.

It’s thanks to my dad that I know how to change my own oil and change a tire, both of which I had to learn before I was allowed to get my driver’s license. (Somehow, though, my sister escaped this. She’s never dirtied her hands with a jack or tire iron, and thinks I’m a fool to do it myself. I prefer to think I’m studly.)

My dad is a good Catholic boy, and goes to church every Sunday (or sometimes Saturday night), but he never sings or prays aloud. He used to drag my sister and me with him, but he’d let us sit in the back row, and sometimes he’d tickle our knees, knowing how hard we’d strain against laughing out loud. And then he’d follow us to Communion, letting me know I should head straight out the back door rather than return to our pew. He liked to beat the crowd out of the parking lot, I guess.

He used to go deer hunting, and even had a reloading bench in the basement where he taught me to reload shells. He taught me to handle guns, and we used to go to the range as a family. He doesn’t hunt anymore, preferring to stay warm and dry, but he’s not at all above taking out a pesky groundhog with the .22. Oh, and you know those big fat bees that are called yellow jackets around here? I swear to God he used to vaporize them with his .22 pistol. It was one of his best party tricks! My younger cousin used to demand, “Shoot the bees, Uncle Jim! Shoot the bees!” And he would. He’d sit in a patio chair on the back porch, watching one, concentrating on that fat, lay hover, and then . . . poof.

He and my mom used to ride Harleys. I don’t remember, but there’s photographic evidence. They weren’t hippes, but they smoked pot. Now he walks around with a toothpick in his mouth, but will smoke my brother-in-law’s unfiltered Camels whenever possible. He likes beer, especially Guiness, but will be just as happy with Keystone Light. He doesn’t care for wine, but likes port. He likes his coffee black and his tea sweet, and doesn’t care at all for steak or salad. He loves pie and cookies, and hot dogs. He makes “grilled cheese” sandwiches by putting slices of cheese between pieces of toast, and then zapping the sandwich in the microwave. He loves to go out for breakfast.

He modified an old farm tractor—a small one—and painted it orange, and this is what he uses to mow the grass. Once, he mowed over a nest of the aforementioned bees, causing a swarm. He finished the job brandishing a tennis racket in one hand, for protection.

He couldn’t care less about any sport of any sort. He’s not the kind of dad who would have coached little league (my mom coached our girls’ softball team). He doesn’t give a crap about fishing. He never wanted to barbecue (Mom, again). I don’t think he’s ever swung a golf club if there wasn’t a windmill and clown’s head in the vicinity. He doesn’t wear a tie more than two or three times in a year, and wouldn’t ever if my mom didn’t insist. What do you give this guy for Father’s Day? Well, you bake stuff. You buy him trees to plant. And then . . . you give him grandsons and take lots of photos for framing. And let the kids make things, like painted ceramic tiles that say “Pap’s Garage”. Oh, the gift-giving mileage my sister and I get out of our boys!

His politics lean far to the right. He was a Regan Democrat in the 80s, and never saw fit to make his way back. He thinks the world is going to hell, and is grateful he isn’t young and just starting out now. (Or, as he says, “I’m glad I’m old.”) He worries about my sister and me, and our kids. He used to get along great with my ex-husband, but now . . . there’s probably no one he likes less, and that includes Bill Clinton.

He doesn’t care for traveling, and went to Disney World with us last August only because I really think my mom would’ve left him if he hadn’t. I think he enjoyed it, though. I’ll never forget seeing him on the Tower of Terror. He’d like to go to Bakersfield, CA sometime, for something to do with old cars. He hates the beach. And Europe? No way. He doesn’t like to leave the county—forget leaving the country. I don’t even think he’s been to Canada.

He likes animals. He puts feeders out for the various local birds. He only watches the TV for news, (Fox—ugh!), WWII movies, and that crazy thing on Spike TV where the Japanese people go through the obstacle courses. He likes Mystery Science Theater. And Wallace and Grommet and Monty Python. He doesn’t read much beyond newspapers and car magazines, but he understands that I feel about books the way he does about cars, so we’re cool.

And that’s about it. That’s my dad. He’s happy, I think. I love him.


Amy A. said...

That was beautiful. I hope you let him read it.

Carolyn said...

What a character!

The funny game show thing is called "Extreme Elimination" and it's a hoot.

I love the bee-shooting part of the story.

Badger said...

Aw! We have totally got to get our dads together. There are shocking similarities. (And some shocking differences as well, but I think they'd get along great.)

BabelBabe said...

You ARE studly for being able to change your own tires.

He's right about the fiberglass pieces of crap.

and this was a wonderful post.

Surfing Free said...

Beautiful - he sounds like a happy, simple man who knows what's what :) But I wouldn't like to get into a political discussion with him!

Joke said...

As a dad, I'm all verklempt. Ya done good.


Sarah Louise said...

I'm laughing and verklempt.

And wow--is he ever young! My dad is 64 (same as Paul McCarney--although PM is 3 days older).

I love that your mom would have left him had he not gone to Disney World. He sounds like a great dad.

I just read Carolyn's comment and fear that I have missed "bee-shooting." Dang--I read too fast and then miss stuff!

Keep the writing coming, doll.


Oh, and I can change oil and change a tire too, however, not thanks to Dad. It does make me feel studly.

Gina said...

My mom is only 56. They got married at 19 and 20, and had me at 21 and 22. Babies! Their wedding pictures look like kids playing dress up.

Amy said...

I love this!!

Peg said...

If I made a movie about your dad, a younger Paul Newman would play him.

Ramble more, Gina. This was a treat.

Sarah Louise said...

Oh, and I did go back and read about the bees. WOW!