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June 12th, 2003

Fatherly Gifts

Does the Proverbial Tie Cut the Mustard?

 
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When I talk to my father, the conversation usually sounds like this on my end:
“Hi, Dad.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“I know.”
“Yes, the Bengals certainly do suck.”
“No….Look, is Mom around?”


Division of labor
My mother is the emotional matrix of the family; all news, all announcements of parental displeasure, all verification of travel plans are transmitted through her. She keeps the checkbook, the phone list, the calendar. There is a type of cycle in progress here…my father goes to work, as his father did before him; only my father doesn’t beat me when he arrives home.

Since he’d had contact with no male role model, no loving structure until the Air Force filled the void, he left the bulk of child-raising issues to my mother. He filled savings bonds to provide his babies with the opportunity to gain the college education he never had.

Fatherly gifts
There were Barbie dream houses constructed in the middle of the night, Catholic school uniforms on my back, weed-pulling lessons, and training wheels screwed on bikes.

And when I outgrew these things, there were envelopes shipped from his work address, crammed with cash, a magazine article or two, and a note reading “Don’t tell Mother.” “I love you too,” I would write back.

No way to repay
The annual Father’s Day search. You’ve seen the card and gift selections.

I can’t hand the man a Hallmark-mandated tie and a card with a mallard duck on it and expect to even it all out. My father doesn’t golf, hunt, fish, build, or tinker. He works. And he naps. He works some more. Every now and then the History Channel will enter into his life. Then he heads back out to sell more appliance parts, almost never in the clothes we buy for him.


The solo connection
Sometimes he settles himself in the family room, lights off, headphones on, country music blaring so loudly my mother can hear it upstairs in the living room. He sings along, claps every now and then, does the bass line. I’d leave him be on those nights. It is a trait he passed on me, this thirst for occasional isolation, the need for personal space like others need oxygen. My mother doesn’t get it. The two of us always did, and our silent pact stretches all the way from Ohio to Florida.

I’ll send out a lovely card bearing a painting of a forest this week, and conduct a cheery phone call. A book is on its way to Cincinnati. It won’t equal the miles of carpet he paced off when my sister was late, or the thousands of Rogers and Hammerstein medleys he suffered through to hear my twelve-second solo.

 
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The Author : Mary Beth Ellis
Mary Beth Ellis writes from Orlando, Florida.
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