My village elders

It takes a village, and mine was well populated.

Father’s Day weekend is my ‘take stock’ time; gratefulness for healthy, happy, successful-in-their-own-unique-ways children, a self-check on how I’m doing as a father and grandfather.  It is also a time of reflection and a reminder of the men who played the unofficial and the codified dad and grandpa roles in my life: my dad, Gramps, my pseudo-grandfather Ivar, my uncle Don,  and stepfather Gary.  The value of what I received from all of them is incalculable  – the sum only as great as it’s multiple, generous parts.

I am simply thankful – well aware that I was blessed by having them all in my life.

Along with dad, Gramps, Ivar, Don, and Gary, there are other men that I think about on Father’s Day – gentlemen whose lives intersected with mine in a wide, ongoing array of ways for many years each; they all brought something special to the smorgasbord of skills, abilities, and character traits that make me, me.

A lengthy and impressive roster, it is.

There were Elving, Albert, Art, Cleo, Ray and Harold – all helping ride-herd on curious, rambunctious, me every Horseshoe Lake summer of my youth. Len, Henry, Win were family by choice, not blood.  Hjalmer and Palmer, father and uncle of boyhood friends and our up-the-street neighbors; master mechanics, guardians of our block, and wink-and-a-nod sages.

It’s an imposing roll call, and humbling when I stop to think of all the time and wisdom they invested in me. Each of them played very significant roles in making me into the man – the husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and leader that I am today.

The list of tactile, hard skills that I learned from these guys would fill a flash-drive: plumbing, house painting, carpentry, roofing – and my personal favorite, lumberjacking.  Master plumber Ivar and would be proud that I still mostly know my way around underneath a sink and can still handle a pipe wrench with aplomb. With satisfaction – and with a brag or two directed toward Ivar –  his best friend – and master housepainter – Elving would note that with house paint and brushes, I am more than proficient.

I’m still pretty damn good at cutting a doorway or window.

The lines of memory blur when I try to place a specific skill to the individual I got tutoring from. Even so, I learned things then learned that everyone has their own way of doing things. So much the better for me.  Youthful understanding of the concept that there is always more than one way to skin a cat has served me very well.

Truth be told, it truly was a village effort.

No matter who may have shown me how to do something, each person added their own take on how to handle such tools as chainsaws, splitting mauls,  axes, logging chains and cross-cut saws – among other tools of the wood cutting game; how and when and where and why (and why not) to use each of them.  Knowing the difference between a framing hammer and ball peen hammer is good; skill with each of them, even better.  A number of these guys took a hand in teaching me the nuances (along with their own peccadilloes and quirks) about how to drive a stick shift, change spark plugs or the oil in one of Detroit’s finest, and I still know of multiple ways to bait a fish-hook, hoe the weeds from a potato patch, scale and filet a sunfish.

That is only a partial list.

Len showed me how to use a lathe, Albert how to properly seine for minnows, and how to properly stack a cord of firewood;  Harold instructed me in how to whittle – knife safety of paramount focus, aside from the artistry. I handsremember many of those lessons vividly, and later on the looks of accomplishment and satisfaction when I showed some mastery at any of them.

Those were just some of the unique slices of tangible skills – physical expertise I was shared that stand out.  Those guys were all present and responsible for so much more than that I just listed.

I also remember others who played lesser, but powerfully important and fondly remembered roles as additional father figures; Mr. Keuken across our Minneapolis alley; Vic the taxidermist, Joe the bartender, and Birkeland the electrician – role players in my summers at the lake.  That’s how I knew them, (Vic, Joe, Birkeland, anyway) and what everyone else called them. Vic and Joe did have last names, Mr. Keuken and Mr. Birkeland had given names.  I remember my dad’s friend Bill, theatre manager and raconteur extraordinaire. There was also Ray, the anthropology professor-cum-writing-coach, and Super Joe the grocer: trust me, loving life and laughing boisterously is a learned skill.

As I peruse this list, I still know I am forgetting somebody.

To this day, I tend to get more than a bit peeved with someone when they marvel at some skill I have displayed or off-beat competency I have shared. “Where’d you learn how to do THAT?” 

Their ignorance, my bliss, I suppose.

In my days as an employment counselor, I helped develop and then taught a class on skills identification – an easy and fun assignment, as I have significant expertise in a lot of areas – and I could also honestly imbue my students with the thrill of acquiring skills and how such knowledge itself has benefitted me in learning other things.

Writing that curriculum came rather easily to me: I saw it as a tribute to all of the men on this list, and quite a few others as well

There is a popular meme that makes its rounds on Facebook pretty regularly stating  ‘Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t used algebra.’ I used to share that attitude, but I now know better. Algebra? Maybe not; but the skills that go into solving equations, the critical thought involved…oh yeah, I use all of that. But I am still lousy at algebra itself. As a high school English teacher, I constantly have students complaining that (fill-in-the-blank) skill I am trying to impart on any given day will never be of use to them.

Their ‘aha’ moments will come for them. In time.

One more aspect to the men listed above that I have always been aware and in awe of: I wasn’t their sole focus. For the most part, there was no obligation to include me in much of anything; these guys were volunteers in the purest sense of the word.  They had their own children and grandchildren, a lot of other things to occupy their time.

The skills were hands-on, as was the problem solving; the lessons often implied, frequently not grasped until after the fact.   Thanks, guys.

If you were to Venn diagram all of the key dads, granddad and facsimiles thereof in my life, the outlying rings – the ‘not in common’ stuff – would be filled to overflowing.   As a village, ‘eclectic’ would be a good name for this tribe. The inner circle – the ‘in common’ – would be full and diverse as well, and would make a good primer for how to live a life: treat people with kindness, respect, dignity. How to develop patience and put it into practice. Do onto others. Help somebody. Follow your gut and your heart, but don’t lose your head doing it. Don’t get frustrated – figure it out. Have faith, live it out.

Clichés?

A damn good instruction manual for how to live a life.

No, I do not regularly use most of the skills I mentioned here on a day-to-day or even-year-to year basis.  As an urban guy, I sadly have little need to lumberjack anymore, and adjusting a carburetor is not something I will probably ever need to do again.

It is unlikely I ’ll anytime soon be needing to shingle a cabin, patch a fiberglass canoe, or lathe a wooden flower vase – though in a pinch, I could still show the younger crowd a thing or two.  Especially on a roof; you modern day guys and your wimpy nail guns; do you even own a framing hammer?

On the other hand, maybe I will someday get a chance to again pilot a pontoon boat.  That would be exquisite.   Will I have to treat a maple dance floor with dance wax again? Probably not – but there is always hope; a man’s got to have a dream.

Oh, I still get to play cribbage from time to time, and might hopefully get a chance to get a hold of some cards and play whist again.  Or canasta, Chinese checkers, mumbly peg, the harmonica.

But I will definitely have to fix another toilet, and there will always be a room that needs a new paint job, something to be repaired or replaced, and each day brings something that needs to be brainstormed, finagled or simply figured out.  There will always be stories to tell, lessons to imbue, parables to impart, jokes to be told.   Spiritually, to me wasting a skill is sinful.

I will always write, always need to think.  I will forever need to laugh, need to cry, need to empathize. I will always need to give a damn, and to help others.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Because of what I learned back then, refined and cultured through the years, I can dive in with confidence – anytime, anyplace, anywhere. I am Mr. Problem-Solver, because of all of all of these guys.

If anybody wonders how I can always say “I got this” it is simply because…

I had them.

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Laughter never fades

Father’s Day.Mom and Dad and I and Gramps

A bit pretentious of a title for a holiday, but it is what it is. ‘Dad’s Day’ just doesn’t have the panache – except to me, because I had my dad.

Dad died in 1986 – now more than half my life ago, which is an interesting realization to come to – I have lived more of my life without his physical presence than with.  Logically I get that, but it still hard to wrap my mind around sometimes.

Because my dad is still hanging around.

It is natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren – life in general, the world in which we all live. His political commentary on modern times would be something to behold. Mostly NSFW – but due to tone, not language. My father was not generally a profane guy, not always quick to anger, but get his dander up, and he would not hold back, and he could be caustic when really provoked.

But the message, no matter how pointed, would be leavened with ample humor.

I don’t need to think too hard to reach some definite conclusions; he would see my life as it is today with a sense of pride, but also a heightened level of amusement and bemusement. Same holds for grandchildren, and his great-grandson.

My dad wasn’t highly educated – topping out the formal end of things with a high school diploma earned at night –  but he was knowledgeable and well read, a man of continual curiosity about the world.  He would have some on-point opinions on the recent state of affairs of the country and it would be a blunt, probably sarcastic, enlightening and entertaining – LOL commentary. He would have truly enjoyed and appreciated his grandchildren’s fairly sophisticated interest in things social and political.

Life would still be meaningfully funny, as would he.

Aside from all of the typical moments I regret my dad and I missed getting to share – the wife and children of mine he never met, my career and creative and milestones, the man I have become – one thing I frequently get oddly wistful about is the fact that my dad and I never got to sit down in front of a VHS or DVD player and watch funny movies.

As life regrets go, that may sound funny.

My dad was an aficionado of comedy. He spent the bulk of his working years as a television station film editor in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then Denver. This was back in the fifties, sixties and seventies when television was still a fairly new, burgeoning entity, and most markets had only four-or-five channels to choose from, and – aside from their network programming –  had lots of local airtime to fill.  TV stations back then ran a lot of old movies; my father’s job was to edit them to fit time frames, and to insert the commercial breaks.

Dad loved movies and he did some community theater himself in his younger, pre-me dad the waiterdays. He also made a few appearances in front of the camera at both stations he worked at; as a menswear model in Minneapolis, and for a number of years in Denver as Santa Claus, on a live, local morning show.  Plus, he did some ad modeling after he retired. Dad was gregarious, willing to try new things and to have fun. Privately, and in public, his comedic timing was superb – on par with professionals.

And Dad knew comedy.

My dad loved a wide array of comedic films and performers. Humor of all kinds actually. A favorite stand-up comedian’s appearance on a show noted in TV Guide or the tvgnewspaper listings and the television was thus appropriated for that time frame: ergo, my first, youthful experiences with ‘appointment television’ were all comedic in nature. Comedy (and humor – a major distinction, to be sure) and an appreciation for things humorous, was a trait he passed on to me, though at times we had somewhat divergent viewpoints on what/who was funny, and who wasn’t.

Hence, my regret over his not living to see the home video age come to full bloom.

Born in 1916, Dad’s early experiences with comedy were vaudeville and silent films. He was a fan of silent stars Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, and also the Keystone Cops. When I was a teenager, any public television salute to either of those guys was duly chnoted and watched by my dad, and since we only had one TV in the house at the time, me too.

I easily came to share his admiration for most of it.

Dad’s true passion, the guys he found funniest of all, were Laurel and Hardy. They were his heroes – especially Stan Laurel, the skinny straight-man of the classic duo. My dad did a pretty good Stan Laurel impersonation, and even as a young kid I was aware that I was seeing a different look in my dad’s eyes when we watched Laurel and Hardy versus other movies or shows.

Nostalgia is a funny thing; sometimes you look back on something fondly and then wonder why. This is not one of those; I still enjoy watching Laurel and Hardy – probably even more so now that I am older and grasp far more of the subtle nuances of their humor – the verbal mastery of the language, the pathos in the true-to-life friendship of their humor, and how grounded in reality even their most absurd moments were.
L&H2
I always laughed along with dad when watching Laurel and Hardy; now I know why he laughed much harder at some things than I did back then.

Watch a Laurel and Hardy short sometime, and you will see that even the physical, slapstick humor has a certain humanity to it, a gentleness. Charlie Chaplin is much the same, and Chaplin I also grasp in a much different way now than I did back then.  The poignancy is palpable, and while I got some of that while watching as a boy, Chaplin also grounded his humor in painful, adult reality.  Dad loved Chaplin, and even portrayed him a couple of times for costume parties.  He had Chaplin’s waddle and cane twirl down pat.

We did diverge at times, however, humor-wise.

In a very different vein of comedy, my dad loved The Bowery Boys; I got quickly bored with their antics. they were New York imps, and he grew up in Brooklyn, so I guess there may have been some connection to real-life for him. Me? Meh. Abbot and Costello did nothing for dad, I found them amusing – though they don’t wear as well for me as the years move on, so maybe my sense of humor is aging like good wine – or my dad.

Ahh, but our shared loves!

My Dad loved the Three Stooges – about as far removed comedically from Laurel and Hardy as you can get, in many regards. There is little subtlety in the Stooges and their 3Seye poking-head smacking mayhem, but my dad enjoyed them tremendously as do I, as do both my sons – his grandsons. There is something timeless in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye.  Don’t believe me?  As an adult, I have, by way of actual demonstration, won a couple of high-stakes bets on whether or not a pie-in-the-face would get a laugh in most any public setting.

Dad would be proud, and he would have laughed like hell seeing me splattered with copious amounts of shaving cream. Plus, I do a damn fine Curley impression.

But while I grew up sharing dad’s appreciation for Laurel & Hardy and the Stooges, we sadly, strangely parted ways over the Marx Brothers.  I was, and still am, a big fan; dad didn’t really find them all that funny (though he enjoyed Harpo and marveled at how great a musician he was). Dad’s attitude towards the Marx Brothers is one thing that has mb1always puzzled me.  All he could do in response to my not-concealed disappointment was so shrug and say that he just didn’t find them very amusing.

Funny how serious guys can get in a disagreement about what is humorous.

As well read and cerebral as my dad was in terms of comedy and satire (both on-screen and in real life) the Marx Brothers would seem to be a natural for him. Oh, he watched some Brothers stuff with me a few times, but it just wasn’t really his thing. But, when I was in high school, PBS resurrected Groucho Marx’s ‘You Bet Your Life’ quiz show from the fifties and ran them on Saturday nights. I became hooked, and Dad actually found Groucho Marx to be a funny guy, much to my relief and vindication of sorts. He still never really cared for their movies, though.

Conversely, when PBS resurrected Ernie Kovacs old shows, I was puzzled as what Kovacs bits my dad liked and which ones he really didn’t. The Nairobi Trio and Percy EKDovetonsils the poet did nothing for him but had me in stitches. By the same token, Kovaks was a pioneer in visual effects, and stretching the bounds of the young, television technology. Most of that I just found weird, my dad loved that stuff. he was, of course, a TV guy.

When asked on his deathbed if he was finding it difficult to leave this life, acclaimed actor John Barrymore was quoted as having responded, “No. Death is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Indeed.

Even though we didn’t get to plunk down in front of a TV with a handful of classics in black-and-white on DVD, my dad and I shared numerous moments of comedic television brilliance through the 60’s and 70’s and had quite lengthy and spirited debates about who (and what) was and definitely wasn’t funny.

Comedians were prevalent on television when I was growing up, and not just late night with Johnny Carson. The Ed Sullivan Show, the Carol Burnet Show, The Flip Wilson Show –  it seemed there was always somebody funny on, and my dad and I enjoyed watching them all.

He loved (and I came to truly appreciate) Jewish, Borscht-Belt comedians Myron Cohen and Morey Amsterdam; yet he couldn’t stand fellow BBers Buddy Hacket or Shecky Greene.  Dad MC and MAoften puzzled over my love for the insult humor of Don Rickles or the confetti-throwing antics of Rip Taylor – neither of whom he could stomach, either. We both liked Jonathan Winters, and Burns and Schreiber – even George Carlin, to name a few.   Although my dad usually went to bed early, I got to stay up late with him sometimes on non-school nights to catch Carson’s show when a comedic favorite was scheduled, thus delaying his bedtime.

Forget the tapes and DVDs: my Dad would have become addicted to YouTube reruns of all those guys.

The great thing was, Dad was not so old school that he couldn’t enjoy contemporary stuff: he would sit with me on Monday nights and watch The Monkees. He enjoyed their antics, tolerated the music.  Looking back, this makes more sense to me; while I used to equate The Monkees humor with the Stooges, viewing them now, I see much more of the gentle love and affection of friends evident in Laurel and Hardy.  And my dad would also take pride in my 36-year-old daughter’s love of The Monkees – which she and her peers got hooked on in their middle-school years, via repeated re-airings.

Dad also loved Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and daughter Lindsay also became a fan of that show too, watching Laugh-In reruns during her teens on Nike at Nite. She now owns some DVD R&Mcompilations of Laugh-In and uses a number of the shows memorable lines regularly in her personal phraseology repertoire, which would please my father to no end – probably even more than it amuses me.

She is also a hard-core theatre geek (and married another one) so he would have been all over that, too.

TV of my youth was something my dad and I got to share as it happened.  Sitcoms of the day we agreed upon and enjoyed watching as a family:  The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, All in The Family, The Odd Couple, and M*A*S*H* were favorites that stand out – and he really loved Barney Miller.

But the quirkiest bit of humor/comedy that my father and I shared was The Muppet Show.

The Swedish Chef in particular always sent Dad convulsing with laughter, and he really enjoyed Rolf the piano playing dog. And Fozzie Bear and Kermit, of course.  But the Swedish Chef was a whole different level of gut-buster for my dad.  No, he wasn’t SC2Swedish himself, but marrying into an extended family of Norwegian immigrants and their Swedish cohorts, he could somewhat identify.  I think.  Dad was also partial to Statler and Waldorf, the old guys kibitzing from the balcony.

The Muppet Show aired at six-thirty, and if there was a particularly intriguing guest star that night, we had dinner on TV trays in the family room – a treat generally reserved for Apollo blastoffs or something equally noteworthy.

To watch The Muppet Show. As father and teenaged son.

Comedy – slapstick, self-deprecating, absurdist, topical, improvisational –  are some of the main reasons I really regret my dad and I missing out on the home video era.

One of the few ‘grown-up’ movies I ever saw with my dad in a theater was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. My father loved the earlier Pink Panther movies, and thought Peter Sellers was brilliantly funny. I had only seen bits and pieces of the earlier films on TV and was unsure what to expect from a whole movie of Seller’s antics.

It was a memorable experience on a lot of levels, as I never saw my dad laugh as hard or as frequently as he did that evening in a Denver movie theater.

Two things vividly stand out in my mind from going to see that film with my father. One is a scene in which Clouseau is chasing a villain and exits a ritzy hotel as the bad guy drives off in a small car. Clouseau summons a waiting taxi, jumps in the back seat, and in his French drawl, he instructs the nodding cab driver to “Fullow that caaaaar!”  The icboverweight cabbie responds by looking at Clouseau blankly, shrugging his shoulders OK, then jumping out of the cab and running down the road – following the bad guy’s car. The camera then cuts back to a close up of Seller’s face, mostly his eyes and eyebrows, as Clouseau realizes the literal result of his order.

It was the late 1970’s and my dad had recently had heart surgery. With that scene, he was laughing so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Seriously.

I have watched that scene a hundred times and laugh almost as hard as he did that night.

The other thing of note from my dad’s affection for Peter Sellers and the Pink Panther series really has less to do with my dad, and more with his influence on my relationship with my sons. A few years ago I rented the original Pink Panther movie and my sons and I watched it together. My dad loved one particular scene, and my boys do now too – especially since they have been able to watch that particular bit over and over via YouTube.

Assassins are trying to kill Inspector Clouseau. One cutthroat (disguised as Clouseau) enters the hotel suite, while another follows and then kills the first assassin, hiding in the bathtub, thinking it is the real Clouseau. When a third killer (lovely Russian assassin Olga) enters, she declares her love for Clouseau and seduces the second assassin in the dimly lit room.

Then the real Clouseau arrives, moving throughout several rooms of the suite, turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same in his wake. He’s befuddled as to what is happening with the lighting and even more surprised when he gets into bed with some “cold hands.” Olga thinks she is with the same man, and a confused Clouseau then jumps from the bed, and escapes to the bathroom, where he now finds the body of the first assassin in the bathtub.

To this point in the scene, there has been no dialogue. Clouseau goes to the phone and calls the front desk, matter-of-factly informing them of what he has discovered:

icf“Hello?… Yezzz. There eez a beautiful woman in my bed, and a dead man in my bath. Thank you.”

Again, a close-up shot of Clouseau’s face – a pause, then his wide-eyed look when he realizes what he has said – the subtle, played straight absurdity of it all, makes the whole scene.

Even without my dad at hand, that line has become a piece of family folklore.

Whenever we check into a hotel room, one of the Lucker males is sure to pick up the phone and intone, in his best, suave, French accent, “Hello? Yayes. There eeze a dead man in my bath-tuub, and a naked woman in my bed! Thank you.”  before quickly hanging up.

With any luck at all, we remember to hold down the button on the phone so the call dad 3doesn’t actually go through to the desk.

Treasured keepsake hand-me-downs from my dad. Or at least, of my dad.

He would find that more than just wonderfully amusing.

My village elders

It takes a village, and mine was well populated.

Father’s Day weekend is my ‘take stock’ time; gratefulness for healthy, happy, successful-in-their-own-unique-ways children, a self-check on how I’m doing as a father and grandfather.  It is also a time of reflection and a reminder of the men who played the codified  dad and grandpa roles in my life: my dad, Gramps, my pseudo-grandfather Ivar, my uncle Don and stepfather Gary.  The value of what I received from all of them is incalculable  – the sum only as great as it’s multiple, generous parts.

I am simply thankful that I was blessed by having them all.

Along with dad, Gramps, Ivar, Don, and Gary, there are other men that I think about on Father’s Day – gentlemen whose lives intersected with mine in a wide, ongoing array of ways for many years each; they all brought something special to the smorgasbord that is me.

There were Elving, Albert, Art, Cleo, and Harold, helping ride herd on me every Horseshoe Lake summer of my youth. Len, Henry, Win were family by choice, not blood.  Hjalmer and Palmer, father and uncle of boyhood friends and our up-the-street neighbors; master mechanics, guardians of our block.

It’s an impressive roll call, and humbling when I stop to think of all the time and wisdom they invested in me. Each of them played very significant roles in making me into the man – the husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and leader that I am.

The list of tactile, hard skills that I learned from these guys would fill a flash-drive: plumbing, house painting, carpentry, roofing, lumberjacking.  Ivar and would be proud that I still know my way around underneath a sink and can still handle a pipe wrench with aplomb. With satisfaction, Elving would see that with house paint and brushes, I’m pretty damn good at cutting a doorway or window.

The lines of memory blur when I try to place a specific skill to the individual in learned it from. Even so, I learned things then learned that everyone has their own way of doing things. So much the better for me.

Truth be told, it was a village effort.  No matter who may have shown me how to do something, each person added their own take on how to handle, for example, chainsaws, splitting mauls and axes, logging chains and cross-cut saws – among other tools of the wood cutting game, and when and where (and why not) to use each of them.  Knowing the difference between a framing hammer and ball peen hammer is good; skill with each of them, better.  A number of these guys took a hand in teaching me the nuances (and their own peccadilloes and quirks) about how to drive a stick shift, change spark plugs or oil in Detroit’s finest, bait a fish-hook, hoe the weeds from a potato patch, scale and filet a sunfish.

Len showed me how to use a lathe, Albert how to properly seine for minnows, Harold showed me how to whittle. I handsremember each of those initial lessons vividly, and later looks of accomplishment and satisfaction when I showed some mastery at them.  Those were just some of the unique slices of expertise I was served that stand out.  Those guys were all present (and responsible) for so much more.

I also remember others who played lesser, but powerfully remembered roles as additional father figures; Mr. Keuken across the alley, Vic the taxidermist, Joe the bartender, and Birkland the electrician.  That’s how I knew them, anyway, and what everyone else called them. Vic and Joe did have last names, Mr. Keuken and Mr. Birkland had given names.  There was also Ray, the anthropology professor-cum-writing-coach/encourager, and Super Joe the grocer: laughing boisterously is a learned skill

As I peruse this list, I know I am forgetting somebody.

To this day, I tend to get more than a bit peeved with someone when they marvel at some skill I have displayed, or expertise I have shared. “Wow, where’d you learn how to do THAT?”   Their ignorance, my bliss, I suppose. In my days as an employment counselor, I helped develop and then taught a class on skills identification – an easy and fun assignment, as I have significant expertise – and the thrill of acquiring it.

Writing that curriculum came rather easily to me. I saw it as a tribute to all of the men on this list, and quite a few others.

There is a popular meme that makes its rounds on Facebook pretty regularly stating  ‘Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t used algebra.’ I used to  share that attitude, but I now know better. Algebra? Maybe not; but the skills that go into solving equations, the critical thought involved…oh yeah, I use all of that. But I am still lousy at algebra itself. As an English teacher, I constantly have students complaining that (fill-in-the-blank) skill I am trying to impart on any given day will never be of use to them.

Their ‘aha’ moments will come for them. In time.

One more aspect to the men listed above that I have always been aware and in awe of: I wasn’t their sole focus. For the most part, there was no palpable obligation to include me in much of anything; these guys were volunteers in the purest sense of the word.  They had their own children and grandchildren, other things to occupy their time.

The skills were hands-on, as was the problem solving; the lessons often implied, frequently not grasped until after the fact.   Thanks, guys.

If you were to Venn diagram all of the key dads, granddad and facsimiles thereof in my life, the outlying rings – the ‘not in common’ stuff – would be filled to overflowing.   As a village, ‘eclectic’ would be a good name for this tribe. The inner circle – the ‘in common’ – would be full and diverse as well, and would make a good primer for how to live a life: treat people with kindness, respect, dignity. How to develop patience and put it into practice. Do onto others. Help somebody. Follow your gut and your heart, but don’t lose your head doing it. Don’t get frustrated – figure it out. Have faith, live it out.

Clichés?

A good instruction manual for how to live a life.

No, I do not regularly use most of the skills I mentioned here on a day-to-day or even-year-to year basis.  As an urban guy, I don’t have much need to lumberjack anymore, and adjusting a carburetor is not something I will probably ever need to do again. It is unlikely I’ll  anytime soon be needing to shingle a cabin, patch a fiberglass canoe, or lathe a wooden flower vase. Maybe I will someday get a chance to again pilot a pontoon boat. Will I have to treat a maple dance floor with dance wax again? Probably not – but there is always hope in that one.

Oh, I may someday get a chance to play cribbage, or whist again, hopefully.  Or canasta, chinese checkers, mumbly peg, the harmonica.  But I will definitely have to fix another toilet, and there will always be a room that needs a new paint job, something to be repaired or replaced, and each day brings something that needs to be brainstormed, benignly finagled or simply figured out.

I will always write, always need to think.  I will forever need to laugh, need to cry, need to empathize.

This is where the rubber meets the road; because of what I learned back then, refined and cultured through the years, I can dive in with confidence – anytime, ay place, anywhere. I am Mr. Problem-Solver, because of all of these guys

If anybody wonders how I can always say “I got this” it simply because….

I had them.

Father’s Day, 2011

Father’s Day. T-shirts that say ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ coffee mugs emblazoned with the similar (‘number 1’, ‘best’ ‘all star’ dad sentiments). Neckties given in abundance, most only worn by a dad because it came from one of his children. A Sunday in June filled with corny greeting cards – or overly sappy, sentimental ones. A dinner out at dad’s favorite cheap restaurant. Deference not usually granted in discussions. Tradition.

A big deal, to us dads.

Like for most, Father’s Day is a day that has changed dramatically in focus and thought process for me throughout the years.

When I was a kid, I eagerly awaited the day, as I always had something unique to give my dad, and that his reaction (or over reaction) would always be amusing or pleasing, and always worth the effort. This is not rose-colored glasses nostalgia; the cache of stuff given by me to my father over many years was discovered as I went through his belongings following his death when I was 27.

This included the set of reddish granite cuff links and tie bar I made for him with the rock tumbler and polisher I got from mom and dad one Christmas.Granite not a precious stone used in jewelry you say? I beg to differ. There was also a tiny bottle of ‘Hai Karate’ after-shave purchased years before at a large department store during a ‘secret shop’ for parents, chosen in secret by me and my elf escort, given with aplomb, used by dad once, never to be smelled again (I later got some Hai Karate for myself; I know why it was a one-shot, one-dab deal).

There was also more ‘mature’ gift or two; from my junior high days, the plastic egg head-on-a-stick figure stuck into a small flower pot with a small sign proclaiming something humorous and related to having a drink. (Hey, it was the 70’s) I also found some of the more yuck-inducing cards I had given him through the years, and could easily see the evolution of our relationship from kid and dad to more adult father and son. I remembered the trepidation as I once gave my father a more, umm…risqué card, and how he laughed heartily, then looked at me strangely, realizing, I am guessing, that our relationship had moved to a new and different level.

My last Father’s Day with my father came just weeks before he died of cancer. He had been Ill for a time I don’t remember much of the details, but I do remember thinking this would be the last card I would be buying him, and that I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing the funniest card I could find. My father was an aficionado of all types of humor, and it was a well-received card, much more than any maudlin sentimentality would have been at that point.

Oddly, that’s all I remember about the card of that Father’s Day.

By the time my dad died, I was a father myself; my daughter was two, and at the stage where her mother chose the card and gift. It wasn’t many years though, before I was on the receiving end of the unique, child-chosen homage trinkets and I began to amass my own collection of Father’s Day totems. It also became clear very quickly that she, too, spends more time than most in choosing a greeting card.

A few years later I was divorced, and my mother had remarried. My Father’s Day now included the ‘step father’ section at the Hallmark store (yeah, I am one of  those people – I take greeting cards seriously; my daughter comes by it honestly) and the Father’s Day cards and gifts I received were delivered during weekend visits.

Times change, Father’s Day changes.

Eventually I fell in love, remarried, and had two boys, who are now 12 and 15. Over the past nineteen years of marriage I have gone from being the non-custodial dad blending a new family to new dad again with mom-chosen gift and cards to present day, where the boys pester me about what I might like for a gift, then miss the obvious-to-me hints I drop on Facebook or stick with magnets to the refrigerator door.

Nearly two-decades ago, Father’s Day was an odd hodge-podge of emotions, with a young, transient daughter who inherited my knack for quirky, endearing gifts and off-beat, humorous cards that she has retained and refined. She will hopefully find a lot of these herself in a box someday and wonder aloud “He saved that?”

Now, the cycle will begin anew; my daughter is expecting a child of her own in November. Next June will come another, new and improved (if that’s possible) version of Father’s Day.

Ahh, as they say here in New Orleans,”It’s all good.”

Fortunately, I am still picking out those step-father cards , though I long ago just skipped the specialty section and just get something that says ‘Happy Father’s Day’ with humor. Or an e-card. (Check your email on Sunday, Gary!)

Ecards. Times do change.

In my half-century plus, I have learned that Father’s Day isn’t just about dad.

My father’s parents both died before I was born, my mother’s mother when I was four. My mom’s father (always ‘Gramps’ to me – I don’t ever remember calling him ‘grandpa’ or anything else but Gramps) was an engaging and integral part of my life until he died, just a few years before my father did. I remember fondly family vacations the four of us took; the Black Hills, Colorado, Wisconsin Dells. The year I lived with him while going to Brown Institute. Great times.

Gramps, too, held to an eclectic collection of treasures I had given him throughout the years; rock jewelry in the same vein that I had given my dad, along with a collection of handmade ashtrays and coasters from my encase-things-in-clear-acrylic phase in my early teens (less noisy but more smelly than the rock tumbler, my parents frequently used Christmas gifts to encourage my creative side) and candles from my more regrettable candle-making years, plus a couple of lopsided beer-bottle beer glasses from the year after I got a bottle-cutter kit. (keep in mind, it was the 70’s)

Some of these goodies were stashed away, but many were on prominent display in Gramps’ small apartment – including the eight-inch alligator with coins and stamps from his native Norway enclosed and visible all along the gator’s back and tail. No, there are no alligators in Norway. Yes, it is a rather ugly looking thing. But I made it, for my grandpa, and he kept it out and on prominent display for a lot of years.

There was also Ivar, at whose lake home in northern Minnesota I spent a dozen joyous childhood summers with he and his wife. Many of my friends from that era were surprised to learn years later that I wasn’t their grandchild, just a family friend. He too, left a collection of stuff from and made by me. he too, apparently, had a penchant for ugly candles he never burned. And beer glasses couldn’t drink from.

My dad, Gramps, Ivar – all are long gone from the scene, all missed on Father’s Day….at least, missed in a physical, wish-I-could-see-you-again sense.

As dads and stepdads, granddads real and ‘adopted’ go, I hit the mother (father) lode.

I was truly blessed in that regard, and their presence in my life one of the greatest of all Father’s Day gifts I have or will ever receive. They aren’t trinkets stuffed in a dresser drawer, aren’t sitting dusty on a shelf in a living room. I do have some of their physical artifacts, but the good stuff is all where it can’t be seen, but is always in use.

Best of all, I can use what they left me and partake in one of the grandest of American holiday traditions: re-gifting.

Happy Father’s Day.