The Things He Handed Down
The Things He Handed Down
By Glen Creason
Once a year the greeting card folks make a buck on a jejune holiday dubbed father’s day. Compared to the Super Bowl of parental celebrations: Mother’s Day this one goes off like a preseason semi-pro game in Keokuk. A few lucky Dads will get breakfast in bed or a trip to the IHOP but for the most part this day is only a period of nods of approval and allowances for Pop’s annoying idiosyncrasies. In television and film most Dads are portrayed as hapless oafs who need close supervision or they will burn the house down making toast. Then again, many of my male role models could not make toast without a spouse’s intervention.
Yet, as I look back over the mists of the twentieth century I begin to understand some of my own father’s influence. I inherited many a trait better left behind but I still pull a boxcar full of his best stuff. I snore like a beast, do too much sport eating, like wine a tad too much and have a temper best suited to professional wrestlers and Jack Nicholson roles. I also am butter soft around the heart, a sucker for girl’s tears and furry creatures. Maybe I love my Dad more now because we saw his big ship steam off into the sunset back in 1992, leaving all of us in the leaky dingy of our own adulthood. Life hasn’t been quite as easy or fun since.
The current culture is cancerous with lousy, non-participant fathers, those selfish bums who procreate and vanish. In my opinion, this sickness is responsible for a country-full of social ills and degradation of morals and manners that lie in the laps of these absentee cowards. It’s not the TV, the celebrities or the Internet that breeds criminals, cheaters, gangsters, SUV bullies, cell-phone boors and hooligans. Fathers are the foundation on which responsible living is built; their roles cannot be underestimated. Those of us who have lifted up our kids to see the monkeys at the zoo or got a squishy hug from our own know just what these no-show fools have missed.
With that seriousness in mind I reflect on my own Dad, with his copious flaws and depression-era values that drove us crazy for a half century. Despite his occasional meltdown with neck tendons tightening and forehead veins showing he imparted many a balance to the hard world we often encountered over our lifetimes. What he gave us continues to grow in importance, growing like an old garden full of fragrance and loamy goodness. These include a love for musical theater, which was cemented by repeated visits to the Biltmore Theater and “Fiorella,” “My Fair Lady,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Sound of Music” and even the terrors of “Hello Dolly.” To this day, my totally tone-deaf brother can take a whack at “Poor Professor Higgins” because of those magical moments out in the audience. Imagine the thrill for kids raised in front of the five-inch screen black and white television to see an entire stage full of beautifully costumed singers belting out “Climb Every Mountain.” Because of him we love music and theater and arts they never knew existed back when the Biltmore shone that original light on our little souls.
The Old Man, as we never called him to his face was also a generous and wise soul who parted with his money easily in the face of a sad story. The lesson was that money and keeping it is never as important as sharing your good fortune. Today, as millionaires proliferate and charitable donations dwindle I often hearken back to my Dad’s modest holdings and copious donations to everybody from broke ex-pugs to the crippled children’s Rams-Redskins charity game. We didn’t have to know Barney the purple dinosaur to visualize sharing; it was part of our lives. We don’t have much but it has never killed us to part with it either.
While my Dad wasn’t educated past Huntington Park High School he could tell a story when he felt like it and left behind some pretty good epics. He also pronounced chile relleno like “rell-lenno” but could take you to a great restaurant in any city within one hundred miles. He had a homespun, direct approach to communication and gave me the greatest compliment ever by telling me I was the pick of the litter when it came to creativity in the family. Since he loved dogs beyond anything reasonable in this world this had a depth of feeling that lasts.
Lastly, he taught my brother and sisters and I about responsibility despite his angling to get the most out of life and his loose interpretations of the rules sometimes. When I bragged about hoodwinking a high school teacher to avoid some character-building work he forced me to get on a bicycle, peddle four miles and admit my mendacity to the same teacher. That wronged teacher, Mr. Heideman, mercifully accepted my apology and then sentenced me to three hours, hard labor on a precious Saturday. The character building was only postponed, and then reinstated by the Patriarch. Our childhoods, seemingly over in several sweet heartbeats were filled with this influence of morality that sometimes gets lost today in the flood of electronic hyper stimulation. Today I look back at my Fathers days and long to tell the old guy I finally understand what he meant, even if he did pronounce relleno all wrong. There is a song that says it too:
”You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father’s
That you’d gladly sell or trade
And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed
By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From places no one here remembers
Come the things we’ve handed down”