See You on The Far Side, Dad

Posted: August 31, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

dadpic

Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. He passed away from complications he suffered after being hit by a car. He was 87 at the time of his death.

What makes this post so hard for me to write are the mixed feelings I’m experiencing now that he’s gone. My dad and I never really had that daddy-daughter relationship every little girl deserves. He was a towering, intimidating man with little to no nurturing skills in his parenting toolbox. On a scale of 1-10, I would give him a 3, maybe a 4. In his mind, his job as a parent was to make money, put food on the table and discipline his children when necessary. My mom’s job was…everything else.

But, I don’t believe in speaking ill of the dead. Instead, I will focus on the few great memories and connections we did have.

Dad proved to be a real enigma to me. He spoke very little about his childhood, but when he did, it was always related to money. He was a product of the Great Depression, so he was a very frugal parent. Okay, I’ll say it – he was a real, cheap bastard with it. He was known to drive clear across town to a particular gas station just so he could save ten cents in gasoline.

I can understand how valuable a deal that is these days, but back then, both my parents worked and gas was $1.50 per gallon. He would drive to the grocery store across town, too, because the semi-rotting fruit they were trying to sell before the subsequent fruit fly invasion occurred was now at ‘giveaway’ prices. “Just a little mold on the orange peel – you can rub that off or cut around it, can’t you, Betty?” he would say to my mom, as she rolled her eyes exasperatedly back at him. One time, the mold was so thick the next day, my brother (highly allergic to penicillin) got sick just from touching it.

Bowl_of_oranges

And I can’t go without mentioning the sixty pounds of frozen turkey thighs he came home with one day, because they were only .04 cents a pound. My mom actually ran out of recipes for cooking turkey. TURKEY. I’m still having nightmares about this.

Not only was my dad a cheap, er – frugal– dad, but also an introvert. His two favorite places to be, when I was growing up, was the health club and/or in the woodworking shop in our basement. To this day, the smell of cigars, sawdust and wood shavings always remind me of him.

But, he was also the father of six kids. I’m the youngest of them all. I can’t help but wonder if, by the time I came along, he had just given up trying to wrangle the rest of my siblings into some semblance of order. I know he was tired of going to the hospital whenever my mom had another baby — he dropped her off the day I was born and told her “Call me when you’re done,” then went home to finish putting in the front, brick sidewalk of my childhood home.

I sound bitter again. I don’t mean to be. Actually, I do owe some of who I am to my father. First, I, too, am a lover of words and knowledge. He enjoyed working the NYT crossword puzzle and was even good enough to tackle it in ink. And there were very little, if any, scratch outs. I, however, do not have the intellect or patience for them.

My dad was also an intellectual snob. He felt it important to know as much as he could — about anything that interested him, of course– just so he could carry on serious debates with people from time to time. We were always outsmarted or out-debated. One of my siblings is convinced these debates were really just another way for dad to assert his power over us. I think he just liked to stir the pot. I definitely can relate to this.

Just like I do, my dad always needed to know “the back story.” If he couldn’t figure something out on his own, he’d enlist his “support staff” – one of us kids, his sister — anyone with a computer and the desire to use it — to do his investigative research for him. He hated computers and said they, along with plastic itself, were the downfall of society. Did I mention he was a bit of a Luddite, too?

0_Anvita_Burmese 1

My dad loved cats. He was always putting them into strange positions, or trying to get the two we always had in the house at the same time to jockey and fight for top cuddling position on his lap. I will never forget the day he said, “I sure hope I die before Emo [his beloved Burmese cat] does, because I don’t want to have to live without him.” When it came to cats, dad definitely had a soft underbelly.

Towards the last few years of his life, my dad actively participated in weekly tango lessons. He belonged to a community of dancers both in Chicago (my hometown) and Minneapolis, where he moved to a few years ago. And, at his memorial service, that was where we Lueders kids got a major surprise about our father.

Apparently, dad was also a generous man — to OTHERS outside our immediate family. Each Tuesday evening, dad would march into the tango room with two hot, fresh pizzas, and feed the entire club. I don’t ever remember dad actively volunteering to bring me pizza. Surprise #1.

Surprise #2 came when my sister shared with us my dad’s love of tabloid television. In fact, I think the audible gasp from the crowd was predominantly from my siblings and me. One day, my brother in law went over to our parents house to drop something off. When he arrived, he found my father sitting in his comfy chair, watching TMZ.com.

Yes, my father was a secret, tabloid-news junkie. What made this more surreal was in finding out that dad absolutely loved any and all news about the Kardashians, especially Kim. He would employ his research team to find and send him all news articles about Kim Kardashian, even if they were just little blurbs.

While this came as a shock to all of us, I understand exactly why dad was so fascinated by the family. They were famous for….nothing but being famous.  He couldn’t figure out what they had done or achieved to deserve the amount of fame they had. And, this is what drove him into a frenzy. It drives me crazy, too, which is why I must read Star Magazine weekly. Thanks, dad.

Surprise #3 came at the end of my sister’s beautiful eulogy for him. Apparently, when dad had something important to say, he would say it to whomever needed to hear it. Dad had no problem contacting important people and asking favors of them.

In the case of the Port Chicago Naval Disaster of 1944 in Washington, my dad felt it was important and interesting enough of a story for Hollywood to make into a movie. My dad had been there when the ship carrying ammunition exploded in the harbor. With just the right amount of chutzpah, my dad wrote and sent letters to both Morgan Freeman and Tom Hanks, imploring them to consider the event as “movie worthy.” He even included the line, “Seeing as how you are the only directors in Hollywood with the hubris to take on this task…” So typical of dad.

Dad was ashamed of his tobacco-stained teeth and never smiled  much. This really upset  him and because of his self-consciousness, it gave him the outwardly appearance of being a curmudgeon. But there was one way to get him to smile, and it worked like a charm.

I asked both my parents to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. Knowing that dad wasn’t a big smiler, I had a secret weapon at my disposal that was guaranteed to crack his hardened veneer. Dad and I shared a love of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. One morning,  I heard dad laughing hysterically in the kitchen, paper wide open in his hands. He was laughing so hard there were tears running down his face. Wanting to know what was so funny, I leaned over and saw this cartoon:

dobiomatic

Something in it just spoke to my dad’s, and my sense of humor.

So on my wedding day, as we were walking down the aisle arm in arm, and my dad was trying to do everything he could to keep from crying, I kept repeating under my breath: “Dobie-O-Matic, Dad, Dobie-O-Matic”. It worked like a charm.

Here’s to you, dad. Lover of cats, fine Scotch, and The Far Side. I miss you.

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