You would’ve loved my father. You weren’t his child.
He was Father never Dad or (heaven forbid) Daddy, which sounds formal and pretentious on paper, but was actually meant as a facetious send-up of formality and pretension.
His full name was Big Fat Father (BFF), which seemed hilarious in the 1960s and 70s, because while he had a pot belly, he was hardly what anyone would call “fat,” even then.
He was a charmer who had problems with authority, rich people and anyone who said “irregardless.”
He wasn’t a rule breaker exactly, more like a rule bender. Between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am, for example, STOP signs were “suggestions” not mandates. He signed gas-station credit-card receipts “I. Will Phartalot.” He convinced my dear childhood friend Jennie that you could bore a hole in a watermelon, stick a hot dog inside, plug it up, leave it for a time, and the two would meld into a delicacy called a “water dog.”
Famously he got expelled from Quaker boarding school mere weeks before graduation for conducting an experiment in the chemistry lab that exploded in a larger way than perhaps he had anticipated. My big sister claims it wasn’t a bomb, exactly. The Quakers were not amused.
An inventor, he left a steady paycheck with Lockheed (c.f., problems with authority) to launch his own machine shop. Among the things his shop manufactured: EZ Go Go-carts, a peanut-skinner for M&M/Mars, Masterbend mufflers.
Those were the good old days.
In the same spirit of irony that led him to call himself Father, he bought a Jaguar XJ6, then another. “If you want to drive a compact car, why not drive a Jaguar?” he liked to say with a mock hoity-toity accent. Nevermind the ivy growing inside the house between the cracks in the bricks or the unreliability of flushing toilets.
Alas, the center did not hold. Things fell apart.
I was (mercifully) too young to be roped into the family business, so I was (mercifully) unaware of the extent of the rule-bending, but even I could see his shop go from 100+ employees to eventually just two: himself and his secretary, soon to be his second wife.
When I was 16, my mother left the marriage and the house, taking me with her. The next decade saw business go from bad to worse, ultimately resulting in a sale of family land and a heated dispute over the distribution of proceeds. Lines in the sand were drawn; relationships fractured. It’s the oldest story in the family-business playbook, but that didn’t make it any less unpleasant to live through.
The next and last time I saw my father was at my wedding, a decade later, which was strained and awkward.
Because he never trusted doctors or dentists (authority!), his health suffered in predictable ways. When he was 67, I got the call that he’d suffered a massive stroke and wouldn’t recover.
No father is perfect (or mother, for that matter). I know that. No husband is either. (If you’re married to one; I got surprise-divorced 10 years ago.)
Humans don’t exist on a good/bad binary. Relationships are messy. Even the best fathers and husbands are going to fall short sometimes, as the Unitarian Universalist minister Lyn Cox wrote in a prayer for a “Complicated Father’s Day.” Even the least-great fathers and husbands are going to have their “shining moments.” Probably most of them are going to fall somewhere in the middle, as most of us do.
So yeah, Father’s Day … it’s complicated …
Non-irregardless, as Father would’ve said, I must’ve absorbed something of his rule-bending spirit to have made it to this point: running marathons and raising a daughter, not to mention writing an entire column about a father who didn’t run for Another Mother Runner!
I hope your Father’s Day (and weekend) is more full of joy than it is complications. But if yours is less than perfect, know you’re not alone.