My father has been gone since 1981, when he died at age 58 and I was 26. I wrote of him here, which was of a serious bent. The thing about families that make them so rich are the stories that don’t make the news. It is my favorite way to spend time, to sit and listen to stories that tell you what made the most influential people in your life tick. And, once the stories begin and the current opens up, you see how generation upon generation passed on legacies – both the good and the bad. Today, I’m going to tell you a couple of stories involving my father, my cousin, Jenny, and me.
A bit of background here. In 1975, I had lived under his roof for a brief – but very long six months and when I had moved in, he had laid down the rules. I was considered something of a wild thing, flighty, irresponsible and my father and stepmother were going to show me the way an adult should live and behave… Well, they did their best, and in truth some of it rubbed off, but much of it went by the wayside. I had one date, who came to pick me up and my father began to chat the fellow up, while my stepmother provided his drink of choice – scotch. Mind, that was an excellent choice, but he drank at least two of ’em and that can impact an evening. The conversation was full of traps he never saw coming, but that my father drew out of him with a smile and the light touch an interrogator would envy. The date was a bust. A couple of months later, I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and my father came in and took a seat at the kitchen table, making conversation, but clearly, something was on his mind. I was scrubbing the kitchen table, when he cleared his throat, “Uh, kid…”
“I notice you don’t date much. Now, I know I laid down the rules about what time you were to be home, etc., but I didn’t mean for you not to go out….”
“Well, you did say not to bring anyone home unless I was serious about them.”
My father was still on his train track, “—And, when you do go out, it is always with your girlfriends…”
I put the sponge down and looked at him. “Dad, are you asking me if I am gay?”
“No! No! Nooooo ~ Are you?” He tried to meet my eyes but it was a frantic kind of scan around the kitchen. Keep in mind, the year is 1975 and he was very, very brave to bring the subject up. Quite obviously, he was troubled that his youngest was becoming a spinster in front of his eyes. I sighed. “Dad, it’s no longer a question of whether you will kiss on the first date or wait until the third date. Nowadays, it whether you go to bed before or after dinner on the first date.”
He was repulsed. “No!” A bit of a romantic, my father.
“Yes.” I nodded. “And you know that very well. You just didn’t think about that as far as your daughter was concerned.”
My father rubbed his chin. He eyed me carefully. “And, so…?”
“Well, there’s that curfew of yours, Dad…” I grinned at him. He threw up a hand in self-defense. I took pity on him. “S’okay, Dad. I just don’t want to be dessert right now.” He nodded and that was the end of that conversation.
Fast forward a couple of years and I am having lunch with my father and he asked if I was dating anyone. I was very pleased to answer yes. He asked for details and I obliged. The conversation went sideways when he earnestly asked, “Yes, but does he bathe?”
“Does he what?” I asked blankly.
“Bathe.” My father repeated in a hushed voice.
“Well, of course, he does, Dad.” I scowled at him. “What kind of question is that?”
“Let’s just say I have heard things.” He said in a dark tone.
That was just so odd, I changed the subject and we moved on. A couple of weeks later, I’m visiting with my Cousin Jen and she asks how Uncle Ed is doing. “Oh, he’s fine. But… I had the weirdest conversation with him…”
“Yes. We were talking about this man I’ve been seeing and he asked me if he bathed…?! Can you imagine?”
My cousin burst out laughing. “Oh, that would be my fault!”
“What? What did you do?”
“Well, you know Uncle Ed. He loves to argue. It doesn’t matter what position you take, he’ll take the other, right?”
I nodded. Very true.
“Well, the subject of marriage came up and he wanted to know what kind of man I was looking for. You know how he is, Huntie… He was certain I was too picky in what I was looking for. I knew it wouldn’t matter what I said, he would argue the opposite and it could go on for hours.”
“And, as soon as you cave, he takes the other side.” I said in agreement.
“Exactly.” Cousin Jen nodded. “So, I pretended to think for a while before telling him, and finally, I said I wanted a clean man.”
“Clean?” Uncle Ed asked blankly.
“Yes. Clean. I want a clean man, Uncle Ed.”
“Well,” my father said, in haste to get to the bottom of the matter, “what does that mean? Clean-minded, clean of spirit, clean-hearted? What, Jenny?”
She paused artfully, let the quiet just build, drew breath and sniffed, gently touching her nose with her index finger. “No, Uncle Ed.” She sniffed again, delicately. “Clean. I want him to bathe.”
My father was dumbfounded. “Men aren’t bathing these days?”
Jenny shook her head in sorrow. “No, no, they are not, Uncle Ed.”
“Oh, my God.” He reared back and then forward sharply, looking into her eyes. “Jen, girl, stick to your guns! Wait ’em out. You deserve a man who bathes.”
Cousin Jen looked over at me and winked. “And, that’s why he asked about your man, Huntie.”
God bless fathers, each and every one of ’em. Miss you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.