Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Troubles With Fathers

Let's start this by saying that you know my dad as well as I do. In the spirit of Will's belated Father's Day tidings, I thought that I would also scrounge up a story for you.

I was probably 5 years old and my dad and I were on our own for the week. My mom was off whirling around the country, teaching America about the latest up-and-coming inventions. Yes, she was in a cutting-edge industry and was fending off the laughter amongst the non-nerds "Ha! Computers... like we'll ever use computers!" This left me and dad and pre-packaged meals. What I remember of my mom's travels was the time with my dad. How he always got shampoo in my eyes. The way that the scrambled eggs were burned around the edges. McDonald's for dinner 4 nights in a row.

Monday was a teacher's holiday, so I was home from school. Dad thought it would be fun to go to McDonald's for lunch. Why not? So we got in the car, but instead of whirling around the block, we got on the freeway. Driving, driving... where are we going? McDonald's....how much further? we're almost there... After an eternity in the passenger seat, we were there. I hopped out of the truck and happily bounded to the restaurant door. But there I was stopped.

Now we were waiting. For who I couldn't say. Still, I don't know. The name escapes me. The general description is a soft-focus outline in my memory. I sort of remember the hair. The voice is... kinda. The only thing that I really remember is the car, and the majority of it I'm sure is fictional. In my mind it's a black Corvette-like coupe. The door is open and I am mesmerized... the internal voice keeps reminding me "the door is ajar. the door is ajar". A soft, female voice cooing "the door is ajar" over and over. None of the brash "bing bing bing" of the truck. Just a nice, smooth voice, coaxing you to close the door. There was an air freshener of some sort dangling from the air conditioning vent, but the scent escapes me.

So there I sat, in the driver's seat of this KIT car, enthralled. It seemed like forever. My father and this woman... a friend from work... stood in the rear of the car. I couldn't hear them talking... just the repeated reminders about my door being ajar. I was hypnotized. I remember the feeling... that feeling when you snap out of a fog and you realize that this wasn't what you wanted to be doing... that was when I turned and noticed them for the first time. Standing near each other, chatting casually. I was still hazy from my door-ajar hypnosis, but it still struck me as strange. To see my father so relaxed, leaning on the car. Chatting with this woman like it was the most natural thing in the world. It was polar opposite of who my father was. A stuffy curmudgeon who preferred his seat in the den to anything else. The sharp conversations with my mother. The strained way that he talked to me. The grouchy old man in the den had suddenly become the beaming stud who could talk gracefully and endlessly and casually.

I don't remember the lunch. I don't remember the ride home or the rest of the weekend. I only remember the way that the day laid sideways in my gut for years. It dislodged 7 years later after my parents' divorce. When 2 weeks after he left the house, he returned to take me to lunch. To see how I was doing - at my mother's behest - and bring along his girlfriend for me to meet.

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