Ode to Dad
I’m not much of a Phillies fan, but it’s nothing personal. I’m just not much of a baseball fan. I hear that the Phillies stink and think, “The whole game stinks.” It moves too slowly, takes up way too much time and involves a lot of spitting. On the other hand, I love baseball and the Phillies because every time I catch a game on television while surfing for a “Sex and the City” rerun I think of my father. And I am definitely a fan of my father. He never stinks and hardly ever spits.
One of my strongest, sweetest memories of my father is of him polishing his shoes as he listened to the 1965 Phillies on a red plastic radio with knobs that fell off every time he turned them. Not that he turned them much. There was no such thing as FM back then, at least not in our house, and the AM stations were few.
I can also see him propped up against the headboard in his and my mother’s darkened bedroom as he watched “The Untouchables” on a huge TV that was only considered portable because it wasn’t encased in a 300-pound piece of furniture. I’d make myself as small as possible by pulling my mosquito-ravaged legs to my chest and stretching my nightgown tightly over them. My arms circled my legs to prevent them from bursting free from their pink, cotton prison. I’d drop my chin into the gully created by knobby knees joining forces. It was my theory that if I could blend in with the pillows, I could stay there indefinitely, “dissing” my bedtime and watching something much more exciting than Captain Kangaroo (Mr. Greenjeans was no Eliot Ness). The only light in the room came from the TV and the tip of my father’s Lucky Strike. He smoked then. Everybody smoked then. And, when my camouflage was failing miserably, he would blow perfect smoke rings for my amusement.
I remember him washing his maroon Chevy in the gravel driveway every Saturday morning. I can see the towel he used to dry it, frayed and grayed from all the Saturdays that came before. I can see the bucket with a head of soap about six inches high.
I remember him shaving in a sink filled with water and little islands of Barbasol that looked like whipped cream and smelled like Junior Mints. I can hear the scraping of the razor on his cheek and the splash when he rinsed the metal Gillette that opened like a flower when he turned the handle.
I remember when he brought me small, black metal clips meant for holding thick stacks of paper at his office. The clips had silver handles and I called them “Barbie purses.” My Barbie dated my brother’s GI Joe instead of that wussy Ken and GI Joe liked the black, metal accessories. It gave Barbie an edge of danger she was sorely lacking.
Last month my father turned 75. We are both well aware of his mortality. I see his gait, stiff and creaky, after a day of his beloved golf. I find him asleep in his chair on a Sunday afternoon while the Phillies toil away on a truly portable TV. I read with a sinking stomach the obituaries of my high school classmates’ parents.
I have chosen to strike out the memories of bitter disputes over my curfew, the cigarettes I carried (with which I blew perfect smoke rings) and my lousy choice in boyfriends.
Instead, I remember the razor, the bucket, the radio. The smell of Old Spice and the sound of his imperfect, but stunning, rendition of “Daddy’s Little Girl.”
Tears well, to my surprise, when I think of all these things long gone. Tears well, with no surprise, when I think of him gone. And I wish that I could say as easily as I did back then, “I love you, Daddy.” Because I do.