Daddy

Daddy: (n) diminutive of Dad

Approaching my produce man at the grocery store, I asked:

“When is watermelon season?”

Without thinking, he replied, “When the watermelon show up.”

I suppose when you practically live in a grocery store, you judge the seasons by what comes off the back of the truck.

In the midst of being a parent, there is a brief vapor of time when your child recognizes you, proclaims you and refers to you as “Daddy.”

It is such a safe, sweet location that you’re tempted to encourage it to expand its borders to broader vistas.

But you can’t mess with it.

It happens during a child’s perfect age–when “Dada” has been abandoned and right before you become the generic “Dad.”

Just hearing the word lets you know how valuable you are to the child.

It gives you a reassuring hug in your soul that he is not plotting, smoking, drinking and thinking of new ways to download pornography.

For after all, you are “Daddy”—”Dada” who has become so familiar that you have gained shape and presence.

Sometimes the word “Daddy” is followed by the young child climbing up on your lap, and without being prompted, giving you a hug around the neck, which lasts a little bit longer than you thought possible.

The little one calling you Daddy believes you to be a god (or at least, Santa Claus’s right-hand man).

He is astounded at how you leave the house and come back with treasures—toys, pizza rolls and little tiny things you promised you’d get if you had time.

Daddy—a word that brings tears to the eyes of any father who knows that soon his power and authority will be challenged by the revolt of adolescence.

But for now, it’s Daddy.

For now, there’s a desire to be close.

For now, the child believes he has come from you and never wants to leave.

Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us that we should approach God by saying, “Abba, Abba.”

Which, by the way, translated from the Greek, means “Daddy, Daddy.”

 

Dad

Dad: (n) informal for father.

It’s really two stories.

There was the story that should have happened and then, the tale that truly unfolded.

It is impossible for me to be an unbeliever. I don’t think I’m gullible, but I have seen enough surprising things come to fruition that I can no longer muster the doubt of Brother Thomas.

For you see, I should never have been a dad.

Don’t misinterpret the statement. I don’t want you to think that I despised the position or even that I wish it had happened differently.

But I also want you to realize that each time I became a dad, there was no planning, no bank account prepared and often not even a correct determination on the time of the blessed arrival.

I shall not get into all of those stories with this one essay.

Suffice it to say, I was a singer, a songwriter, a piano player, a vagabond—and I was a brat about never wanting to work for anyone else. As you can see right there, I perhaps should be eliminated for consideration for “father of the year.”

So I did it all with my children.

While I was teaching them to be better humans, they were teaching me how to be a good dad.

That’s the way it should be.

As long as you’re willing to look like an ass, identify it quickly and then change your mind, your kids will love you to death.

I drug my kids all over the country.

I had them playing instruments on stage in front of audiences.

I home-schooled some of them.

I lost one child along the way to a hit-and-run car accident.

And somehow or another, all the others arrived at adulthood, found magnificent partners, and are living full-blown, solvent, intelligent and spirited lives.

I will take credit for the fact that I was there, remained, repented and transformed.

But still—someone sprinkled something onto the mess, to turn it into a passable casserole.

What does it mean to be a dad?

  1. Be prepared to be watched twenty-four hours a day.
  2. Be prepared to be wrong—and admit it.
  3. Be prepared to laugh at your children when they act like you’re killing them because of a discipline you must levy.
  4. Have a life of your own, so they can see what you think is important.
  5. Encourage their mother in front of them.
  6. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  7. Take them—your children—very seriously.
  8. When it’s obvious to them that you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t pretend you have a secret plan.
  9. Don’t try to be a best friend to their best friends.
  10. Try as hard as you can to never embarrass them.

Even though I was not a natural, I decided to naturally learn from the experience instead of giving up on it.

Now, my sons are dads.

My grandchildren call them that.

And I sit back in my resolute journey and watch my sons learn how to become “Dad.”

 

Credentials

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Credentials: (n) evidence of authority, status, rights, entitlement to privileges, or the like, usually in written form

 I suppose if you removed my driver’s license from my wallet, I would possess no credentials whatsoever. My state has authorized that I am entitled to drive a vehicle.

I have never received credentials from a music school, though I have persisted in making music.

I have no credentials whatsoever to write books, blogs and screenplays—yet again, I pursue.

I certainly had no credentials to be a dad, but the kids kept showing up.

I had no credentials as a lover, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

I am not licensed or approved to be a philosopher, a teacher, an instructor or a motivator—but these things have come up and in the absence of real talent, I have stepped in, acting as the best substitute I could.

I suppose I should have given more thought to gaining credentials. They do look good when writing a bio. Getting places or people of note to qualify you is much better than jotting down, “Have no fear. I am here.”

And I am certainly not one of those who feels self-righteous about lacking credentials, as if I were showing some sort of superiority by sheer grit and force.

It’s just that everything in my life started about one year earlier than it probably should have.

When I possibly could have gone to college, I was having my first son. And since I had that little family, when I might have wanted to garner some sort of degree or certificate, I was trying to put pizza and animal crackers on the table.

What I had to learn was that the absence of credentials demanded an honest presentation of oneself rather than lying or becoming defensive or saying something stupid like, “I have graduated from the school of hard knocks.”

I think it is absolutely delightful, if not essential, for people to gain credentials. I certainly do like to know that my plumber has plumbed before, and somebody knows that he’s not “plumb crazy.”

But in the absence of credentials, I will humbly offer myself, candidly share my value and do the best goddamn job I possibly can.

 

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Cove

Cove: (n) a small indentation or recess in the shoreline of a sea, lake, or river

 Clever will only take you so far.

This is true in any occupation, but certainly must be observed faithfully by the writer.

For you see, I am going to tell a story today about when I was sixteen. The temptation is to preface this story with an introductory sentence funny wisdom on words that begin with a C
which sounds cool, or what they might refer to as “off-the-top-of-the-head-ish.”

For instance:

  • when I young
  • back when pimples were my major problem
  • long before anybody called me Dad
  • in an era when I languished in my teens

You see what I mean?

Although at times these little scribbled affrontations are passable, they can get old very quickly, even if you’re talking about being young.

So suffice it to say, at one time in my life I decided to start a coffeehouse for the fellow-students at my high school. This was back when such an idea seemed expansive and other-worldly rather than old-timey and really out of it.

I found a small house—so tiny it was difficult to believe anybody had ever lived in it. But you could stuff about thirty-five people in, on the ground floor, if everybody agreed to inhale and exhale in unison.

It was perfect.

I covered the windows so no external lighting could come in, installed black lights and put colored bulbs around to give it a spooky effect.

We could not decide what to call the place, but one night, as we pulled up, we noticed it looked like an old fisherman’s cabin. So someone suggested we call it, “The Cove.” Actually, the suggestion was “The Fisherman’s Cove,” but as the weeks went by, the adjective was dropped, and it became known as “The Cove.”

All the students at the school jockeyed for the right to be one of the holy thirty-five to come to The Cove on a Saturday night, to sit around and eat bologna sandwiches and listen to the rock music our parents were sure would lead us to hell.

As it turned out, the rock and roll music did not take us to hell, but unfortunately, the bologna sandwiches gave us cholesterol problems.

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Costume

Costume: (n) a style of dress, including accessories and hairdos, especially that peculiar to a nation, region, group, or historical period.

If all the world is a play and all of us humans are actors on the stage, who’s in charge of the costuming?funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Are we all wearing costumes continually?

I came to write my blogs today. I’m wearing a pair of underwear, slippers and a golf shirt. It is what I refer to as my “blog costume.” Once adorned in this particular frock and frill, I am fully aware that I should not take myself terribly seriously. I should relax, be as realistic as possible, and certainly never lie.

Yet I’m not comfortable wearing this to the grocery store or even family functions. For them I require another costume.

Since I’m getting older, which began shortly after my birth, I want to dress for the grocery store with a certain contemporary appearance that lets people know that I’m not stuck in a decade which is tucked away in the history books. Of course, there’s a danger of dressing too young for myself, and looking like a wannabe millennial instead of an aging “Woodstocker.”

Then there are family gatherings. I realize they want me to play the function of “dad and grandpa.” What costume does one don for such an occasion? It has to be friendly, generous and have a certain amount of gravitas, so if one of the children is in need of counsel, the duds will match the words.

Are we all wearing costumes?

Can you really be a rock band if all you wear is blue jeans and t-shirts? Isn’t there a danger that it looks like you’re playing one set at the club and heading off to do a shift at the warehouse?

I guess we need to look the part.

To do that—to play our part—even to remain in character at times—we require costumes.

We know this is true, because when someone is out of costume, the reporters show up to do a story. When President Obama wore something other than a dark suit, for the next two days it was the conversation on the 24-hour news cycle.

“What was he doing wearing a light-colored suit? Are we a banana republic? What’s next? Flip-flops?”

I guess Bill Shakespeare was right—the world is a stage. Unfortunately, we spend much more time worrying about our make-up and our costumes than we do learning our lines.


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Cobalt

Cobalt: (n) the chemical element of atomic number 27, a hard silvery-white magnetic metal.

My dad decided to die when I was sixteen years old.

He had planned it for nearly thirty years.

As a cigarette smoker who actually bought tobacco in the can and “rolled his own,” he had pretty well determined the end of his story long before he’d lived out all the plot lines.

I was one of the plot lines.

Before I found out that he had terminal lung cancer which had spread to his brain, there was a brief, three-month period when he became warmer, more tender–wanting some closeness with me.

Unfortunately, by that time I had created so much distance there was no way for me to transport myself to his side–even when I discovered he was dying.

They sat down and explained it to me, pointing out that he would be going through radiation treatments, which involved cobalt. He did.

Yet he barely survived the only cure they had available. When he returned home, he could barely walk and had trouble breathing. His skin was red like he had a deep sunburn, and he smelled like the trash we burned in the back yard.

Being around him just scared the hell out of me.

Everyone wanted me to turn into the devoted son who held the hand of his ailing father up to death’s door.

I just couldn’t do it.

Even when his breathing became so heavy that I could hear it through the walls while sitting on our porch stoop, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I loved him or even be present when the last gasp escaped his being.

This is my memory of cobalt.

It was used in the early years of radiation treatment, and left the patient nearly vacant of the resources to think and move.

As I sit here today, I can wish that I had been a better son and he a better father.

But that is because I have an older mind, and sometimes find it difficult to regain the fury involved in being sixteen.

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Chiller

Chiller: (n) short for spine-chiller.

My parents tried.

As I get older, I vaguely understand that my mother and father attempted to comprehend what was in the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy.

They didn’t do well–that’s why I used the word “tried.” Maybe I should have added “and failed.”

But once a month they would let me have some friends over to spend the night on Friday evening, and after my parents went to bed, we would gather in front of the only television in the house, which happened to be in the living room, and watch “Chiller Theater.”

The movies weren’t really scary–they were 1930′ or 1940’s ilk, chocked-full of silly props and plagued with over-acting.

But with seven or eight young boys in a dark house, poking each other and wrestling, the experience soon turned into a scream fest.

My father would appear from the bedroom, which was adjacent to the living room in our tiny bungalow, and mutter something to the effect of, “You boys need to keep it down.” But my recollection of how it sounded in my ears was: “Youwse keep the clown.”

So since the order was vague, we would quiet ourselves for a small period of time, and soon be right back to the decibels necessary to make us feel like we were really partying.

I think my parents hated “Chiller Theater” night. This was proven by the fact that they always insisted, when the fourth Friday came around, that I had added incorrectly, and it wouldn’t be until next week. Unfortunately for them, I carried a calendar with me and pointed out their mistake.

So when I hear the word “chiller,” I think of six or seven pubescent and pre-pubescent boys gathered in a tiny living room, wrestling, trying desperately not to knock over furniture, while screaming just enough to prove that we were the true “Monsters of Might” instead of those displayed on the screen before us.

 

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Children

Children: (n) plural form of child.

Four sons were brought into this world by my sexual cooperation. In other words, I’m their dad.

Three other young gentlemen arrived on my doorstep because they were no longer safe and sound in their home environment.

As I look back on it, I must be truthful–because I’m a writer, a vagabond, a searcher and a proclaimer, I may not have been the best choice of a man to have
children. Fortunately for me, my offspring generally disagree.

My approach with children was really simple: I have a life. It is my time to have a life. You are welcome to come along if you don’t complain too much.

They quickly became convinced that their dad was cool, because he wasn’t like other dads. Of course, when they came into their teen years, they became critical of me not being like other dads. The charm of my uniqueness had worn off.

Children exist for two reasons:

  1. To remind us how bratty human beings really are.
  2. To give us a chance through instruction, love and tenderness to make a better generation.

I cuddled with my children but I never coddled them.

I loved them but I avoided getting lovey-dovey.

I gave to them, but never gave into their demands.

I respected them as long as they respected themselves.

I laughed with them as long as they realized there was a season to weep.

And when it was time for them to move on, I granted them the autonomy to be themselves without feeling loaded down with ancient family history.

The Good Book says we are the children of God. It’s very true–because after all, we are a bratty group which needs discipline, but still possesses the potential of bringing new hope for a new generation.

 

 

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Charcoal

Charcoal: (v) to cook over charcoal.

My dad tried hard.

I didn’t know it at the time–I was a teenager and I thought he was an old man. He was pretty old–older than most of the dads.

Sometimes he would imitate joy over having me as a son. I was usually watching television at the time, and unaffected by his attempts at
conversation. Then, when I needed five dollars to take a girl on a date, he distanced himself from me–protecting his pocketbook.

We never connected. But to his credit, he never stopped trying.

He even decided to go out and buy a really cheap grill from Buckeye Mart, complete with charcoal briquettes and lighting fluid. He was determined to grill hamburgers in our back yard.

He had no experience.

The first half hour was spent trying to figure out how to ignite the charcoal. Then he ended up wasting about two pounds of hamburger because he didn’t know you were supposed to wait until the fire went down. I faithfully stood by his side watching as he told me I would be taking over the grill in just a few moments.

I never did take over the grill.

The charcoal he bought was so cheap it wouldn’t stay lit and the lighter fluid was bargain brand and not very effective.

So at the end of the excursion, my father presented a platter of hamburgers that looked like charcoal briquettes, and some that were still raw.

It was a fiasco.

It would have been fine if he had laughed at himself or admitted his lack of foreknowledge. But he didn’t. He blamed Buckeye Mart for having inferior products and me for not being adequately motivated.

It is not a good memory.

But it does remind me that a sad man–who happened to be my dad–kept trying to please a very bratty son.

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Cabin

j-r-practix-with-border-2

Cabin: (n) a small shelter or house, made of wood and situated in a remote area.

The human brain is not spacious.

Matter of fact, it’s pretty cramped.

When you add the clutter of prejudice, misconception, disappointment and selfishness, it can be extraordinarily confined.

That’s the way it was with my dad.

My dad never got a chance to find out if he was a good man or a bad man because he was surrounded by men just like him. Therefore he compared himself to them.

They were all frightened of change.

They were all nervous about not having enough money.

They were all intimidated by despondent and dissatisfied women.

And they were all looking for a retreat.

My dad went to Canada–sometimes twice a year–to hunt and fish, but mostly to try to find something in his brain that was his own.

My mother didn’t mean to be intrusive. She always felt she was being helpful. The problem is, helpful is rarely achieved if no one is asking for help.

My dad was not unhappy, he just wanted to be left alone. So he built himself a cabin out on a small piece of land that we owned outside town. It was rustic, it was small, and had very little in it–except my dad, when he wanted to be away from everybody.

My girlfriend and I occasionally slipped out to the location to “play doctor” which eventually led to “hospital.”

But every time I came into that room I could feel his loneliness. I know it sounds poetic, or even misplaced, but there was a quiet in the room which was disconcerting instead of reassuring.

The day he died, people gathered at our home to consume all the casseroles which had been brought in by well-meaning relatives. I slipped away and drove to that cabin, walked in and sat down on the cot that was in the middle of the room.

I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps I thought I would feel the spirit of my dearly departed father.

All I felt was the loneliness which was now even more lonely, because its only visitor had finally escaped.

 

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