Dad. You drove me crazy growing up, but I think I’m starting to get it.
Dad has always had trouble keeping things straight. Not baseball game scores or Native American history or what time to leave for work. Just certain things. One weekend in junior high, my friends and I were waiting outside of a fun park where Dad
was supposed to pick us up. When he didn’t show, we called my Mom who told us that he had just returned home from attempting to pick us up at a skating arena
in another town. Maybe he confused roller coasters with roller skates. Maybe he just had more important things
on his mind.
Later that year, he staged a protest by burning the American flag outside the Albany courthouse. Well,
he tried to burn it, but the flame wouldn’t catch. Still, it was enough to get him chased by angry veterans, his picture on the news, hate mail and phone calls and slashed tires. And it was enough to get me some hate speech of my own at school, from a few of my more conservative classmates. Dad wrote poetry about the
flag burning too, featuring his persona, White Boy.
If he wasn’t at work, Dad could usually be found on the living room floor, leaning back against the couch with
legs outstretched, cutting, folding and stapling his tiny booklets together. He wore t-shirts and Levi’s (which he called dungarees), and his brown curls had a spirit as
wild as his own — he had no use for combs. His blue
eyes glanced up from time to time to catch the baseball game on TV. When he got up, he left behind an outline
of pastel paper slivers in the shape of his body. I didn’t get it at the time, but he was a giant of the underground press, self publishing and distributing more than 160 thousand pamphlets, in addition to his other writing. He sent out submissions constantly, each one with a self addressed stamped envelope. Our mailbox was always jammed full of fan letters, acceptance letters and, no doubt, plenty of rejections.
Between Dad’s exploits and Mom’s confrontational artwork (our dining room boasted an oil painting of Dad with the text Good Fuck); I was growing accustomed to not being understood by my peers. So I did what any self-respecting 13-year-old would do. I threw a keg party. It had all the requisite characteristics of an out of control bash — loud music, drunken breakups, uninvited guests, a visit from the police, and pizza deliveries that no one admitted to ordering. It also had some unique characteristics like our electric toothbrush being planted in the garden, the microwave being filled with dish soap, and the dirt from two broken houseplants somehow ending up in the piano. To top it off, a tape of the party was stuck in the video camera. (We got it out, but I lost track of that tape — if anyone reading this has it, please get in touch.)
Mom and Dad were in New York for the weekend, but Dad returned the next afternoon, earlier than expected. There I was, with a half-cleaned house trying to glue a broken leg back onto a chair. Afraid to face him, I hid in the study, where my “friends” had ransacked his papers. Pamphlets were strewn everywhere, ripped, crumpled, and missing. The following week, the pamphlets made their way around school along with stories of the party. Everyone knew my Dad was the infamous White Boy. And of course, I was in trouble. Not that much though. My parents were never great at punishment.
I don’t remember talking to Dad about what happened, the loss of his work, or my feelings about being the daughter of White Girl and White Boy. He just kept on writing, submitting and teaching. He kept on getting tattoos, performing his poetry in the nude and pitching for five softball teams every summer. And he kept on forgetting. But one of the things that remains constant, even as Dad’s memory gets cloudy and his ability to express himself erodes, is his enthusiasm. Last year, at his 70th birthday party, he gave an impromptu, five-minute speech about how beautiful we all were. Someone gave him a rainstick as a gift and he walked around the room showing it to each and every person. Dad’s excitement has always had a childlike quality and when you talk to him, it’s difficult not to get excited too. Even about stones.
So, here’s to you, Dad. You drove me crazy growing up, but I think I’m starting to get it. The world is crazy. You actually make a whole lot of sense. Happy birthday.