I’m once again drifting back to thoughts about my dad. His face stares back at me through the light blue eyes of older men who live in and around Citrus County, Florida. They share an age bracket driving around in antique cars like my dad once did and gesturing with their hands just as he did when he didn’t particularly agree with a fellow driver’s lack of road etiquette. He was a loud-mouthed Polish Italian who spoke Mandarin fluently and enjoyed using it anytime he came across someone else. His pronounced nose, long face, and thin lips are forever etched in my head. He used to think he was an old Asian man reincarnated into the body of an American man. Who knows? Maybe he was.
He wore aviator sunglasses, drank Genesee beer pale ale at dinner, and loved making his special spaghetti sauce with clam sauce. When he was home, I would find him lounging on the couch watching John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or reruns of Star Trek with William Shatner, including the feature-length films. He would do impersonations of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny in front of my friends. They would laugh politely, not understanding the reference. Their parents were younger much younger.
I had very little knowledge about his whereabouts when my mother moved out to Florida at the end of 2011. For all I knew, he was still living on Geary Street in a run-down apartment in San Francisco.
Research on Ancestry.com showed that he passed away in Hawaii, not in San Francisco as previously thought. A few weeks ago, I searched his name on FB. His post revealed much of what I already knew about him, but what caught my eye were photos of a Chinese woman. The caption said the woman was his wife. They had gone over to China and had pictures taken of them in different gardens and one of them dressed in costume from Ming Dynasty 15th century. Say whaaaat?!!!! Who was this guy? He looked happy and I couldn’t help but be happy for him. I hope he left this world with a smile on his face.
# # #
He said a lot of things over the years that have stuck with me and I can’t help but repeat them since they carry a certain relevance now that I’m a parent doing my best to be an adult.
I don’t say these things to my own children, but when I talk to my husband these words pop-up from time to time in the form of, “You know what my dad would say?”
Since there is a generational gap where my parents were closer to the age of his grandparents he often says, “I haven’t heard that before.”
Here are some of the echoes of words that remain and my interpretation.
Dad: Does a bear sh*t in the woods?
Me: This was my introduction to rhetorical questions.
Dad: The world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Me: I used to think of it as the end of the world, but now I see at as a daily perspective. Some days appear worse than others. I’m trying not to allow the media to dim my view on the world. I have seen a lot of good and that’s something that the media cannot diminish.
Dad: You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Me: He would flex his arm and wave his fist back and forth anytime I said anything remotely smart-alicky. I really don’t know why his reply would entail me getting a bruising. My dad never laid a hand on me. If I did get out of line, my mother was quick to give me a pinch under my arm.
My dad and I got along most of the time, mostly because we didn’t really talk. We had different views about the world and the older i got, the more difficult it was for me to remain quiet.
I’m realizing more and more that it is hard coming to terms with my family members. We spend years growing up around them, but we don’t fully understand them or what their life was like prior to us entering the picture. My parents were terrible communicators with each other and with me.
I’m still learning how to to communicate with my own family. It’s an uphill battle at times, but it’s definitely worth it. I do know that I don’t want to leave my children with clichés. I hope they will genuinely know me. The last thing I want is to go through this life completely misunderstood.