Saturday, June 2, 2012

For Dad

My father loved to reminisce. Whenever our family got together—usually around the dinner table (we all love a good meal)—he would tell family stories. Sometimes they were about something that happened when he was a child, or when he and my mother were first married. But usually, when my brother, my sister, or I were present, the stories were about us. They would invariably begin, "Remember when...?" If we didn't remember the incident, we certainly remembered the story, because he had told it many, many times.

For instance, one of his favorites about me involved a visit to a carnival in Vincennes, Indiana, when I was about three years old. He took me into a fun house, thinking it was going to be like the fun houses he went to when he was a kid, with mirrors, moving floors, slides, and so forth. Instead it turned out to be a dark ride, with ghosts and monsters that jumped out and scared the bejezus out of me. According to Dad, for a long time after that, if anyone said we were going to do something "fun," I would immediately burst into tears.

I must not have been too traumatized by the incident, because I don't remember anything about it, and I've loved a good scare since I was about ten. But Dad could never forget it. He told this story again the last time we visited, and he still felt terrible about subjecting his child to such a frightening ordeal.

There are many such stories about things Susan, David, or I said or did when we were kids. Whenever Dad would begin to tell one, we would always groan, "Not again!" As we got older, we were embarrassed when he told them in front of friends, spouses or, worst of all in David's case, in front of his children. But we always knew that Dad didn't tell these stories to embarrass us. He told them out of love.

Dad knew that telling stories about our loved ones is a way to keep them in our hearts, to keep them alive. And so, when our family gets together, I'm sure that we will continue this tradition. We'll tell the stories Dad used to tell, and we'll tell stories about Dad.

For instance, there was the first time he visited Loretta and me in California, just after we moved there in 1995. He had flown to San Jose for his brother Hollis's 75th birthday; we drove up to San Jose for the party and brought Dad back to Los Angeles to stay with us for a few days. While he was with us, we took him to one of our favorite restaurants—a place called Houston's. He loved it. He couldn't stop talking about how delicious the food was—especially the couscous, which he hadn't had in years. We told him that it was a nationwide chain, and that there was probably one somewhere in his area.

When he got back to Virginia, he couldn't wait to take my mother to this wonderful restaurant he had discovered. He couldn't exactly recall the name, but he knew it began with an 'H.' Then, one day when they were out driving, he thought he spotted the place, and he and Mom decided to stop there for lunch.

It was Hooters.

"Once we were inside, I didn't think it was the right place," Dad said, "And the food wasn't anywhere near as good. But your mother didn't seem to mind. She enjoyed her hamburger."

Most men from my father's generation are not comfortable with displays of affection. I count myself fortunate that my father was not like most men. Dad was a hugger, and it felt so good to be hugged by him, and to be told—even at the age of 57—how much he loved me, and how proud he was of me. I like to think that I have learned many lessons from his example: honesty, kindness, patience, tolerance. But the most important thing I have learned from him is to never miss an opportunity to tell the people you love how you feel about them.

So, Dad, I know I've said it before, but I love you. I am so very proud of you, and I am so very proud to be your son.

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