June 17, 2013
With Fathers' Day rolling around yesterday, I've been thinking about something my own dad once said to me in my youth.
I don't remember the exact situation; I was dealing with some challenge or disappointment or a girl who'd put gum in my hair. Or who hadn't put gum in my hair, or who didn't appreciate the gum I'd put into her hair. Something traumatic like that.
Anyway, I remember my dad sat me down, heard me out, and then offered a single piece of fatherly wisdom:
"Son, life isn't about the things that happen to you. The question is, when those things happen, what sort of man will you become?"
(I think it was my dad who said that. Come to think of it, I might have been a Growing Pains rerun. Or Family Ties. I have this strong feeling of being annoyed with Tina Yothers in there somewhere.
You know what, screw it. My old man can have this one. I'm giving it to him.)
"I can finally tell my father -- and anyone else who wants to know -- what kind of man I've become."
Of course, I didn't have an answer to the question then. I was still a kid. I had no idea what things would happen as I grew up, or how I'd react or which people would be putting their gum into which other peoples' hairs.
But now, I know. Decades of experience later, and I have the answers. I can finally tell my father -- and anyone else who wants to know -- what kind of man I've become. To wit:
I'm the kind of man who:
- compulsively eats every last crumb of food on my plate. My parents swear they didn't teach me to do this, but I still have the odd feeling that every time I clean my plate, some starving kid in India magically gets a bowl of chicken tikka.
- will push a door I'm walking through open wide, in case there's someone right behind me coming through. But I won't actually look for someone behind me, because I don't actually care whether I'm helping anyone specifically; I just want to feel like I'm being courteous.
- wouldn't stop to pick up a dollar bill on the sidewalk. Not because I'm not greedy or don't want another dollar, but because I assume all public unspoken-for money is a setup for some kind of hidden-camera show to make people look like jackasses.
- believes that probability is the driving force of the universe, which makes life less like a search for a unique and special purpose, and more like trying to win a round of Bingo.
- is never going to buy the big thing that everyone has, because everyone already has it. Clearly, I'd rather buy the thing that's better than that other thing, because of reasons everyone else failed to think of, and then be smug about it to no one who gives a flying damn any more, and has probably already bought the next new big thing anyway.
- harbors an intense and active hatred for certain companies who've screwed me over (Verizon and UPS, for instance), while openly admitting that the only reason their competitors haven't screwed me over is that they haven't gotten around to it yet.
- will usually refrain from telling rude and inappropriate jokes in polite company, but will never stop thinking of rude and inappropriate jokes in polite company.
- will gleefully use all the bad words there are, and a few I made up myself, except the ones associated with where a person is from, who they want to boink and which part of the bus some people want them to sit on.
- suggests the invitation should be for the wedding reception, with attendance at the actual ceremony optional. We all know why we're really here, people. Let's cut the charade.
- eats his fish 'n' chips with the ketchup on the fish, and the tartar sauce on the French fries. Because why the hell not?
- recycles my soda bottles at work, even though I know for a fact that the cleaning staff dumps them all into the regular trash bin when they clean up at night. (See "holding open doors" above.)
- still counts the stairs I'm climbing, but no longer (usually) has to touch the last one twice if the number of steps is odd.
- buys all my music in digital form and all my books in paperback. Because I'm not "old school" or "new school"; I just like the smell of books more than CD cases or Kindles.
- rejects the idea that there's some force or spirit in the aether looking out for me, because if that were true, there would probably be two or three others specifically out to get me. And that would be scary as all shit.
- will tolerate the presence of an uninvited critter in my home, so long as it A) comes alone, B) stays away from where I sleep, eat and bathe and C) has the common decency to own less than six-and-a-half legs.
- hasn't left the seat up on any toilet I've used since 1987. Because hell hath no fury.
- contends that people who greedily fail to respect the alternating "zipper" method of merging two lanes of traffic should be hung upside down from their radiator hoses under a low overpass, just in time for a passing oil tanker parade.
- leaves bigger tips than most people, but not so large that the waitress is actually going to want to talk to me about it afterward.
- may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death my right to walk briskly away from you while you're spouting whatever ignorant claptrap is on your mind.
- is obligated to think of one more thing, because that makes an even twenty, and I won't sleep well tonight unless this train wreck feels like its wrapped up in a neat little round-numbered bow.
So. There you go. That's apparently the man that I turned out to be, all these years later. Huh.
I'm not so sure Dad's going to be so keen on this stuff. Or understand some of it. Or want to hear anything about any of it.
Maybe I'll paste it in an email and send it to Alan Thicke, or Meredith Baxter-Birney. That seems safer. Yeah, I'll go with that.
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