One of my father’s favorite sayings was, “If I can’t make you happy, I can damn sure piss you off.”
He was a man of few words, but boy, did they pack a punch when they needed to. He wasn’t, as the saying above suggests, a neutral guy. No, he wasn’t chatty or even all that sociable, but he had strong opinions and, given the right circumstances, he let those winds blow.
And oh, how he made me happy: bringing the love of music into my life, into my tiny little five-year-old hands as he guided them across the keys of the first piano that he’d brought home; that surge of excitement that first time when I realized he’d let go after pushing me on my bike after taking off the training wheels; the sweets and treats he brought home to me and Mom every Friday afternoon after he got his paycheck; those incredible steaks he used to cook on the grill in the summertime; his unending litany of jokes and one-liners.
So many precious memories.
And yes, there were times when he pissed me off, too — most memorably (and humorously) when I was in fourth grade and, after getting into a raging alcohol-fueled argument with my mother about the state of his beard, he went into the bathroom to trim it with a pair of dull scissors. She was always after him to keep it short, while he preferred it a little more unkempt. I escaped most of the drama and went to bed. When he showed up at my school the next morning to chaperone my class’s trip to the Portland Symphony, his beard had vanished. Though he later explained that he’d “screwed it all up” and had needed to shave it off, I refused to speak to him for a couple of days and even wouldn’t sit next to him at the symphony. I really liked his beard. (And I can still recall the deeply apologetic glances he gave me over his shoulder from the row in front of me and just a few seats to the right.)
But then, there were more moments of genuine pissed-offed-ness: his stage fright — how could a man with that much musical talent get stage fright?!
Then there were all those times when he took my mother’s side in everything, no matter what crazy thing she said. Those really hurt.
And I was really pissed off after he died. Pissed at him for not taking better care of himself, for not ever exercising or eating better or drinking less or giving up those damned Camel straights that he loved so much, all of which certainly set him up for the terminal cancer that beat him just a few weeks after his fifty-first birthday.
But I’m not angry so much anymore. It doesn’t feel good to hang on to the anger, to any anger, really. A dear friend said that sort of thing is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
I’m lucky that I get to complain about missing my dad. I’m lucky that I got to help the girls upstairs today in getting their Father’s Day cards and gifts ready for tomorrow’s celebration. I’m lucky to have all those traits of my dad’s that always frustrated me: the stubbornness, the tendency towards shyness, the propensity for unhealthy choices. But I’m also lucky that I got a sliver of his sense of humor, and his undying love of music. We’re all lucky to be here, to have a chance at anything. Happy Father’s Day, everyone.