Gentry

Back in the days of semi-adulthood, after college but before having kids of our own, quite a few of my peers went to “therapy”.  Maybe it was a New York or an L.A. thing, or perhaps it was a rite of passage.  For whatever reasons, I never partook.

From what I heard about it, the big breakthrough that these people got from the therapists’ couches wasn’t particularly shocking.  The young women learned that the seeds of all their “issues” were sown by their mothers.  The men found out that all of their baggage came from dear old Dad.

I’m sure that my naive synopsis shortchanged the practitioners of psycho-therapy by quite a few doubloons.  At the time though, it seemed silly to hire some therapist to give me a pearl of wisdom which my friends had already paid for and leaked to me for free.  Besides, even without the second-hand head-shrinking, I would have likely named my father as the prime suspect. He’d been there from the start, after all, and I’d watched his every move.  Regardless, I didn’t need therapy, because I was certain that I was a well adjusted, sane person – or so I thought.

You could dress us up, but...
You could dress us up, but…

When he’d wrestle on the floor with my three brothers and me, Dad was hopelessly outnumbered but still tried to trap us as we squealed and screamed.  My mother would stand to the side wringing her hands, frightened and mystified by these displays of male rough housing.  No matter how hard he seemed to try to hold onto us, we’d wriggle loose.  After a moment of relishing our freedom, we’d jump back into the fray, hoping he’d grab us again.

Dad was there somewhere on the crowded sidelines in the seasons of the games we played.  He might not have been the loudest parent, but we’d often find out after the game how closely he’d watched.  He was never the parent who badgered coaches or campaigned for more playing time.  He let us find our roles on the field without interfering.

Our family was different then others.  My parents have always been “theater folk”.  While other Moms and Dads listened to Sinatra or The New Christy Minstrels, my parents preferred original cast recordings of “Brigadoon” or “Man of La Mancha”.  I don’t recall any efforts on their parts to be like other parents, no matter how much we might have wished they would.  My mother was prone to belting out a show tune a’ la Ethel Merman, at the drop of a hat.  This isn’t a Mothers Day post however, so I’ll put that topic on a back burner.

It’s difficult to write about my father without including my mother. To this day, they are so intertwined in my mind that they seem to be a single entity.  As I type these words, they’re likely finishing up their sleep and ready to start another day together – caring for their latest dog and communicating telepathically from one recliner to the other.  For some reason, I just recalled a period when they used to kiss every night as we all sat down to dinner.   My brothers and I would recoil in revulsion at this icky display of affection, but they did it anyway.

He taught in the high school we attended, and my brothers and I got to experience him at work.  I didn’t appreciate at the time how few children get to see their fathers in their work environments.  For many of my peers, the occasional company picnic was about the extent of seeing Dad at work.

Rose colored recollections are all well and good on Fathers Day, but as I noted earlier, I am not without my issues.

As a father myself for nearly three decades, I have no shortage of things which gnaw at me.  Did I love my children outwardlyly enough for them to know?  Did I do everything I could for them?  Did I put too much effort into providing for them at the cost of being present?  Did I set bad examples or no example at all?  Did I do a good job?

I can’t say for certain what the answers are.  If I’ve failed in some regard as a parent, I don’t suppose there’s much I can do to rewrite any chapters of ancient history.

I think again of my own Dad, and I wonder if he ever had questions and doubts like mine.  I don’t see any shortcomings in him.  I was lucky enough to have been one of his sons, and blessed to be able to tell him so as I wish him a happy Fathers Day.

I guess that’s therapy enough for me.

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A Game of Dad-and-Mice

{ The lovely and talented Green Study recently hosted a Christmas story contest on her blog complete with prizes.  It was a gutsy move, as she announced the contest right as most people in the blog-o-sphere were finally abandoning their computers for a few days of holiday cheer and dealing with visiting relatives.  I’m certain there weren’t as many entries as she had anticipated.  As proof of what must have been a sparce turn-out, I was able to score 3rd place (1st place would have required at least two less entries).  My prize booty included a generous donation to the Red Cross made in my name, and a snazzy postcard featuring the Metrodome in Minneapolis.  More importantly, I snagged a few new followers, which are worth even more than postcards in my book!  To those new followers and anyone else who may have already seen this post, I apologize for reposting it here.  For the rest of you, here’s a little Christmas story to make you glad it’s January. Also, Green Study was nice enough to come up with the title of the post for me, so you’ve already read the best part.}

Shake the box all you want.  I hope you don't mistake the sound of those little pie tins rattling around for Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots! (Image from theblaze.com)
Shake the box all you want. I hope you don’t mistake the sound of those little pie tins rattling around for Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots! (Image from theblaze.com)

There was a magical time when I believed in Santa.  It was too long ago for me to recall.  In retrospect, I was such a scaredy cat as a child, I was probably terrified of the jolly fat man.

I come from a family of four boys – each of us only separated by a year or so from the next oldest or youngest.  Since we were so close in age, if one of us found out anything juicy, we’d all know within minutes.

Once we discovered that Santa was actually Mom and Dad, everything changed.  From my parents first unexplained shopping trip after Thanksgiving until sometime Christmas Eve, there was an elaborate game of cat and mouse between us boys and Dad.  I’m sure my long-suffering mother played a role, but we knew that Dad was the strategic mastermind.

The game was simple.  Dad hid our presents until he and Mom had a chance to wrap them.  Then he had to re-hide them until Christmas morning at 2 A.M. when we’d finally be asleep, and he could put them under the tree.

The re-hiding of the wrapped presents was critical, as my brother Chris had nearly psychic abilities of interpreting the contents of a given box merely by shaking, listening and smelling the wrapping paper.  My approach usually involved a slight corner-tear and then clumsily covering my tracks with scotch tape repairs.

Dad had relatively few options for hiding anything, as my brothers and I had the run of the house, and there wasn’t a single locking door.

My parents’ closet was the first place to look.  Between Dad’s sports jackets, garish wide ties and Mom’s “stuff”, there wasn’t much room.  As the only female among us, Mom’s clothing items defied more description than that.

The attic was prime hiding real estate as was the spider-filled closet under the basement stairs.  Due to my lack of bravado, both were good choices.  Still, the lure of toys-to-come could overcome my fear of tarantulas and man-eating, dusty boxes from Nanny’s house.

One year we stumbled onto the motherload.  There were piles of bags from toy and department stores.  We couldn’t believe it!  The old man had really slipped up this time.  There wasn’t even a hint of wrapping paper.  My brothers and I strategized on how best to unload the bags without leaving clues.  We carefully lifted out the first item – an EZ Bake Oven!?  Beneath that was a doll.  We glanced at each other as we slowly realized that these gifts weren’t ours.  We put the girlie gifts back and left, confused and defeated.

We later found out that a coworker of my Dad’s had a bunch of daughters who were probably looking at our baseball gloves and GI Joes a few towns away with similar confusion.  The two evil geniuses had conspired to hide the booty at each other’s homes.

We’d made a classic blunder and under-estimated our opponent.

Dad seemed especially jolly that Christmas morning.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon-Scented Garbage

I was watching TLC the other night and saw several commercials for “Craft Wars”.  For those of you who have enough of a life to have avoided seeing the commercials or TLC itself, allow me to describe what this craft competition show will apparently be about.

“Hi Tori! By the way, I’m a big fan of your work. Oh…Okay, well anyway, this piece is my interpretation of a happy jack-o-lantern. It will make a great door hanging or as seasonal decoration. The crooked grin gives it a touch of whimsy!” (Image from blog.craftzine.com)

Three contestants are given crafting supplies including all the hot-glue sticks and glitter they could ever hope for.  Then, the host says “Your time starts…NOW!”  The crafter-contestants, who by their very existence make me feel like a superior life form, all scramble across the set to get to the bins of crap that they’ll be making “crafts” out of.  This is essentially the same format that’s used on shows like “Top Chef”, “Design Star”, “Chopped”, “The White Room Challenge” and countless others.  As if watching these scrap-booking, swatch-pasting zealots isn’t bad enough in and of itself, the whole thing is hosted by massive has-been mega-talent, Tori Spelling!  The description above was gleaned from my having viewed a 30 second commercial several times, while I was busy watching some other inane offering on TLC.

It’s truly effortless to sit here and complain about what passes for entertainment these days.  I mean, they make it so easy.  So I sat down to write my rants about just that, but then a deeper thought occurred to me.  With the recent celebration of Father’s Day, I was reminded of what my Dad used to say;

“Turn off that damn idiot box and go cut the grass, dammit!”

Oh wait, wrong Dad quote.  He also used to say;

“If you’ve got a problem with it, then come up with something better or shut the hell up!”

Good point, Dad (My Dad didn’t actually curse that much, but I sure as shit do).  I put on my thinking cap and came up with some programming  ideas of my own.  I’m going to email these ideas to TLC, NatGeo, HGTV, Bravo and A&E.  They’ll be welcome to use any and all of my ideas without having to pay me a dime, but I do want the title “Creative Consultant” and a link to my blog in the opening and closing credits.  Here we go:

The Rolls Royce of Eternal Rest – this baby is a serious upgrade.(Image from Jawdrops.com)

America’s Next Top Mortician – Three morticians are given a challenging stiff to prepare for a viewing and funeral.  They will each have a fixed number of hours to fully prepare the corpse for interment.  Some of the challenges will include pushy, unrealistic family members who want Aunt Bessie to look “more life-like”, ill-fitting clothes for the deceased, and convincing the family they should pay for the up-graded casket.  Finally, what final-rest competition would be complete without the hearse-obstacle course?

Janitors Got Talent – Everyone knows at least one janitor who insists on singing or telling jokes while pushing brooms and emptying trash cans.  Here’s a chance for janitors to shine like freshly scrubbed porcelain!  Each contestant will have to demonstrate their unique talent while brushing toilets, running a floor buffer and refilling the soap dispensers in the women’s bathroom.

Cryo-Bank Tellers  24/7 – This gritty, up-close slice of reality will follow the challenges of round-the-clock employees at a St. Louis sperm bank as they deal with the crazy demands of such a bizarre work environment.  Hand held cameras will follow them throughout the facility with copious amounts of digitized blurring of clients faces, specimen jars and more!  At least once every episode, one of the tellers will lament “The sign on the door said ‘Unoccupied’, Geez I hate when that happens!”  Hilarity meets revulsion when new staff members are pranked and directed to put their lunches in the wrong refrigerator!

Bus Wars – Broad Street Local – Parking Wars meets Cash Cab as Philadelphia’s public transportation passengers are asked impossibly difficult trivia questions.  Contestants are frustrated, angered and embarrassed to realize they can’t possibly win any money.  Tempers flare when the contestants realize that the host/driver has ignored their stops while waiting for one of them to answer the question!

You turbo-charge this thing, put a chain guard on it and go to work. (Image from social.kidspot.com.au)

American Baby-Nose Pickers – Poor little Tyler and Brittany can’t do it themselves with their little bitty fingers!  Whether they use the squeeze ball, a Q-Tip or their own massive adult fingers, Moms and even Dads just can’t rest until that little hanger is out of their babies’ honkers.  The contestants will have to face tough challenges like booger-eating older siblings and the nausea of onlookers.  Tension builds as we close in on the final weigh-in!

My Biggest Fat Gypsy Rose Lee Loser – Theatrical directors and personal trainers team up to direct a community theater production of “Gypsy”, starring the morbidly obese who compete to lose the most weight while dancing and singing the hit numbers from 1959’s Broadway smash!  Wardrobe issues and self-esteem are on a collision course in this emotional competition!  Contestants are pushed to the brink when they have to keep their appetites and salivary glands in check while singing the lyric “..have an egg roll, Mr. Goldstone..”

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I’m going to go ahead and send the link for this blog to all those networks.  Keep your eyes peeled in the months to come, I think I’ve got a few winners here.  Listen up network execs, as promised, these ideas are there for the taking, and all I ask is the “Creative Consultant” tag and a plug for my blog.  Be warned though, my next batch won’t come so cheap!

Fathers Day Gift Giving

To be honest, I think these may have been Mother’s Day gifts, but you get the idea

I’ve been giving some thought to all of the cool stuff I made or bought for my Dad on Father’s Day over the years.

The love behind the gifts was unconditional of course, though the range of what the an 8 year-old could fashion out of modelling clay and pipe cleaners may have been somewhat limited.  In those days, you could make your Dad a coffee mug.  Even if he didn’t drink coffee or tea, it didn’t matter, because the mug would usually be comically lop-sided and as leaky as a sieve.  Dad could use the mug to hold pens and pencils on his desk.  Hopefully, the desk had ample room for the paperweights and ashtrays which you had made for him on Father’s Days gone by.

When I got old enough to hit my mother up for money and a ride to the store, I’d get Dad a tie.

I look at the world these days and wonder what kids could possibly be cranking out to give to Dad today.  The coffee mug is still a classic, but with the advent of computers, I don’t know how many fathers really need all that much pen storage.  Similarly, the paperweight is all but obsolete.  Who needs to hold down papers in paperless cubicle?  Everyone knows how politically incorrect ashtrays have become, and using one to hold paperclips would require an office with papers in it.

I’m sorry son, but Aunt Tilly was no fan of Mr. Bobby LaBonte. (Image from listia.com)

Casual workplaces and tele-commuting make neck ties about as relevant as a new needle for the Victrola.  The opportunities for many Dads to wear ties are rarer all the time.  Dad won’t want to hurt their feelings, but perhaps someday the youngsters will understand why he can’t wear that nice NASCAR necktie they gave him to Aunt Tilly’s funeral.

Madison Avenue has been bombarding us with ads for power tools, golf clubs and European sedans as ways to honor our Dads.  Despite the efforts of advertisers, it’s doubtful that many in the 10 and under set were out buying Dad a radial arm saw or BMW this past week.  As nice as it would be to have a new toy, Dads know better than to pin those wishes for a day like this.  That’s what mid-life crisis birthdays and inheritances are for.

I’m not sure what has become of the various ashtrays and coffee mugs which my own kids made for me on Father’s Days gone by.  I can still picture what my daughters and son must have looked like as they wrapped up their school year and finished the projects they’d made for me.  I suppose as long as I have those pictures in my mind, the actual lump of painted clay doesn’t matter all that much.

We don’t need papers to appreciate a nice paperweight after all.