I was going to journal today about author Annie Dillard and I typed out five pages on the topic of how writers can learn from some of her writing and advice.
But after seeing the thousandth reminder about Father’s Day this weekend I decided it was time to surrender to the topic that has been on the back of my mind for the last month, namely my dad.
Writing advice from Ann Dillard can wait a few more days, right?
Dad, first, Happy Father's Day. I think most people stop celebrating that day after their father has died but I still mark this day. Like it or not, sons who have lost their fathers can’t stick their head in the sand and pretend Father’s Day doesn’t bring a flood of memories to the surface.
I’ve been thinking today about what I wanted to tell you. It has been more than five years since you died.
A lot has changed. Do you get the news up there in Heaven? Is it via Google? Newspapers? I know you liked to read two or three daily newspapers, a habit – one of many – that I picked up from you and continue to this day.
Well, in case you do not get the news up there here are a few things that will tickle your fancy. Remember Arnold Schwarzanegger, the action star? Well, he’s your governor now in California. Mom voted for him and then acted surprised when he was about as good at governing as he was at acting.
I thought it funny that she voted Republican. I was always amused that on election day.you would vote Republican and she would vote Democrat and then, having tied up the votes, I’d take relish on voting Democrat. I thought that particularly funny considering how you met: at… well, I was going to say it was a party where people were watching the elections and you were heart-broken that Nixon lost and mom was ecstatic that Kennedy won. But did people really have elections focused around parties focused around elections? If so, boy have things changed.
These days more Americans seem to vote for an inane show called American Idol than in elections. One t-shirt I spotted the other day which said “Idle American” summed it up well. I’ve been considering suggesting the presidential candidates go on American Idol since that may be what it takes to get all the non-voters off their butt and get involved in the political process.
Let’s see, what else is new? Remember how you seemed to hate Hillary Clinton and I gave you a hard time as I struggled to determine whether you were being sexist (maybe), parroting Rush Limbaugh (probably) or whether you truly hated her (I doubt it). Well, now she is running for president. You may be gone from the political scene but there are still many who think about her as you did and I do not think there is anything she can say or do that will convince Hillary-haters to give her a chance.
This all reminds me how much I miss our conversations. I used to get so mad that you would not express emotions to me. I promise I won’t talk again about how much I longed for you to say the words “I love you” or “I am proud of you.”
Instead we would debate the news, often political issues, and while I’m not sure either of us ever really budged in our positions I think I learned a lot in the process. That reminds me that there are a few things I want to thank you for:
1. Your work ethic. You were from a generation which some say expressed their love for their family by working hard and bringing home the paycheck. I don’t know about all that but I am one hard worker. In fact right now I’m technically unemployed but I am working hard still as a volunteer, as a writer at websites, and as a student.
2. Getting me reading. I doubt you would ever say anything as abstract to me as that you love, value and treasure words but I think you did and I know that I do. I find it funny sometimes that while I spent many years trying hard to be as different from you as possible I ended up much more like you than I am different from you. I have a black and white photo of you sitting at home reading the newspaper. Were you to walk into my favorite coffee houses (don’t ask – the coffeehouse trend is a whole ‘nother story, dad) on most evenings you would find me reading newspapers and looking not that much different from how you appear in that photograph. Remember how you had stacks of magazines – some more than one year old – that you vowed you would get to as soon as you had time? I have three months of magazines in a bag that I’ve vowed I’ll get to when my classes are over.
3. The value of education. Remember how I would go with you to Cal State Los Angeles University as you would teach on Saturdays but then I’d get bored by your lessons on engineering and go play soccer instead? Remember how you were so disappointed by my decision to go into journalism that you promised you and mom would pay if I ever wanted to make a career change? Well, um, I did. I’ve entered the education field. Surprise? Ironically mom was one of the biggest opponents of this decision but she did come through with fulfilling your promise. I later realized my interest was more in special education than traditional classroom teaching.
Okay, I feel better now having thanked you for those three things.
While you have been up there I have obviously been getting older. I still think of myself as a child at heart but children seem to think otherwise. You know you are getting old when children you work with not only ask how old you are but then, when you make the mistake of answering their question, tell you that their father is younger than you are.
I can already feel the schisms that will become the next generation gap, not to mention the knowledge gaps between my generation – or at least me – and the teenagers I work with these days.
Three anecdotes come to mind which I figure you would appreciate.
Remember Woodstock? Yeah, yeah, I know you hated the hippies and were pretty oblivious to the 60s because you were so busy working. But I’m sure you still know what Woodstock was?
So recently a teenager asked me the name of Snoopy’s bird friend on Peanuts. I googled it and told the teenager that the bird’s name is Woodstock.
“What is Woodstock?” she asked.
“You don’t know what Woodstock is?”
“No, what is it?” she said.
My mind reeled and I’m sure my mouth was ajar. Well, I began, it was a huge concert at a farm in New York.
“There are no farms in New York, silly,” she said. I realized her conception of all of New York came from what she knew of New York City.
I decided it wasn’t worth it to try to explain to her who played at Woodstock and what the festival was, let alone what it meant and symbolized.
But it did remind me of a time when, working with some students with discipline problems, one asked me if I knew what “Purple Haze” was. I told him I was pretty sure Jimi Hendrix was talking about drugs in that song and not, say, purple socks.
That student pronounced me cool and ever since I’ve been known there as “that cool sub.” The students attitude and respect toward me immediately improved.
So it is that now it is not unusual for me to encounter teenagers and one will say, “Dude, I think I know you. You subbed for us.”
I’ll say something cocky like, “Was I cool?”
Yeah, the guy will say, you were.
“Then, yeah, that was me.”
It’s a pretty cool feeling.
One final anecdote, Dad, then I’ll finish up this letter, dad.
Remember Nancy Drew? Ok, yeah, dad, I know you didn’t read Nancy Drew. Heck, I think the only fiction I was ever able to convince you to try was Tom Clancy and, boy, did I come to regret my endorsement of him as his books steadily become worse and closer in size to the submarines he was so apt to describe in more detail than necessary, at the expense of providing depth for characters.
Anyway recently I was with a group of teenagers when we saw a preview for a movie version of Nancy Drew.
Why am I telling you this? I think it’s because, just as you used to vent against how my generation seemed to know too little about prior generations and history, I’ve found myself saying the same thing thing about the generations younger than me.
Speaking of which I have to ask if you regret any of the movies you took me to, or how you taught me how to sneak into two or three movies at a theater when we only paid for one?
You took me to see Gandhi and I decided to become not only a supporter of non-violence but also a pacifist. You took me to see my first R-rated movie called So Fine and I learned that just because a movie is R doesn’t mean it’s actually any more interesting than the PG movies.
I am chuckling now as I recall the time you took me to see Dead Man Walking. I though the movie was great and so did you, even though you were for capital punishment and I was opposed to it. It turned out you that thought it agreed with your position on capital punishment while I thought it supported my position.
Well, dad, with a smile on my face as I type this at Fridays, I am going to bid you adieu.
I miss you.