My dad died when I was fourteen years old. At the time, my life revolved around cheerleading and boys. Until he got sick, that is. And needed surgery. And died.
The older I get, the less people know this about me. Which I don't mind. In fact, I prefer people don't know because it allows me to talk about how he lived, rather than how he died.
For example, I can tell people about his love for corny jokes. He had a particular fondness for punny takes on song lyrics, such as one about a guy with car trouble who eventually laments, “You’ve picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel...” Or the one that ends, "I left my harp in Sam Clam's Disco."
I can describe how every day, after work, he would sit at the head of the kitchen table going through mail, drinking Diet Rite with Bacardi, and chatting with my mom. Never Tab. Or Diet Pepsi. Or even Diet Coke, once it was introduced.
I can mention how my dad answered most of my questions via sketches drawn on kitchen napkins with a pen from his breast pocket. A career draftsman at General Motors for 37 years, he never left home without a few pens in his pocket. He loved cameras and saw the world in pictures.
I can tell people how how my dad talked about the “the guys at work” incessantly, complete with a stock answer when we'd ask about an individual identity. “Who’s Mr. Babowski?” we'd ask. “Mrs. Babowski’s son,” he’d reply (ba dump bump!). The "guys at work" taught him lots of things, including how to jury-rig our Atari 800 to play a host of boot-legged games, including one in which the object was to scale the cliffs of a high desert plain before a bird shat on you.
And I can include footnotes on how my dad loved music on such a visceral level that he'd tap his foot and nod his head to the beat at my school band concerts. A little bit of me died of embarrassment each time. It was not, however, embarrassing to watch the man dance. He was an amazing swing dancer.
I can talk about how he liked to drink beer out of authentic, boot-shaped beer steins, especially at our church’s annual Oktoberfest. Or how he'd always get schnockered on Drambuie at the holidays. Maybe I'll even tell about the time he got sugar drunk at my sister’s high-school graduation party.
I can talk about how much my dad loved food in general. He'd peruse cookbooks for my mom, checking recipes that he wanted her to make. Before long, the system grew to include a check plus. He'd also cook for himself occasionally. His favorite recipe made our house STINK for an entire week: a three-egg omelet stuffed with canned peas and a half-pound of Fontina cheese.
I can also brag that he always made time for his kids. I remember 'bumming' around doing errands on weekends, watching "New Zoo Revue," and enjoying family dinners. On the flip side, he could give a stinging bare-bottomed spanking. The man knew how to put his wrist into it.
No matter what, I always try to tell people how much my Dad loved to smile. Like in this photo above in which multiple reflections of himself sit around a table smoking a cigar. Because in the end, I'm left only with reflections of him myself.
Antonino Simonte, 1931-1987