My Dear Old Dad
By Victoria Landis / June & July 2012

WE ONLY GET ONE FATHER, biologically speaking. But a dad? That's a different story.

For some people, Dad is the one who contributed his DNA to you. For others, it's the guy who volunteered to step up and be the dad. I am thanking all dads, whether they're blood-related or not. As a tribute, here's to them and their foibles.

There are a few things I know for sure about dads. They like sports, especially football, and -- when Mom's not in the room -- cheerleaders. They relish a cold beer after mowing the lawn. They make the best tree forts. They believe winking at you erases a clumsy remark. They have deep, meaningful conversations with the family dog, but can't cough up a word when asked by Mom to help explain the birds and the bees to their kids.

They love steak. They wear t-shirts from their high school or college days until they disintegrate. They tell the same corny jokes, year after year, and laugh harder each time, ignoring Mom's eye-rolling. They adore their children.
My dad passed away fourteen years ago. I question the sanity of my father and my mother (who is very much alive). They decided to have a big family and wanted all six of us.

I've raised three children and can't imagine having had three more. I don't know how my parents didn't succumb to the temptation to lose one or two of us. In my dad's wake, he left a legacy of events and stories that still entertain us -- tales about Hawaii after World War II, college pranks, and how he won my mother over from some other guy.

Dad loved to dance. When I was little, I would wake up at night sometimes and hear music. I would sneak downstairs and find my parents on the sun porch, doing a wild, swinging jitterbug to big band music. They were laughing and smiling -- no, BEAMING -- from ear to ear.

Dad was cheap. He thought nothing should cost more than fifty dollars -- ever. It didn't matter how much time had passed since his find-a-nickel-and-see-a-movie childhood. He would tip waiters and valets with quarters. As we grew older, we realized Mom always tucked extra cash in her purse for surreptitious purposes. He did get a little better with the tipping thing, but we all were prepared to leave a sweater on a chair as an excuse to run back to the table to provide extra compensation.

He loved cute waitresses. Back in the days before political correctness (think the Mad Men era), he would pinch their bottoms and laugh, embarrassing us. Dad was a charmer, though, and the waitresses never looked angry. Really. I guess some people can pull off anything. My middle son inherited that gene. He would never pinch anyone, but boy, one smile and whammo -- he clinches the popular vote.

My dad's favorite drink was the Manhattan -- four parts rye whiskey to one part sweet vermouth with a dash of bitters and a maraschino cherry. It is etched into my brain because Dad taught me to make a Manhattan when I was ten. These days, that would probably be considered child abuse. Heck, my kids didn't learn bartending skills until they were at least twelve. Kidding.

While Mom was busy preparing dinner for eight, I would fill the cocktail shaker with Manhattan ingredients and frost a martini glass in the freezer for him. When he came home from work, he would sit at the counter and do the crossword puzzle, sipping the drink I had served and talking to Mom.

But here's the endearing part, something I didn't realize until many years later. He would pluck me up and onto his lap and challenge me with some of the crossword clues. No matter what I had answered, if it was the right amount of letters, he praised me and filled in the world. (In ink. He and Mom always did their crossword puzzles in pen). After a few answers, I'd get bored, jump down, and go find a sibling to pester. Now, as an avid puzzle doer, I can only imagine what a pain in the rear it was to work around and ink over those incorrect answers.

Before the Internet, or even the concept of a home computer, dads relied on nudie magazines. Keeping them hidden from the wives and children was a big challenge. We kids always found the stash, however. We never let on, and we never told our moms. It was our only source of sex education.

What we didn't know was that all the moms knew exactly where they were, also. Everybody just pretended they knew diddly. As it turned out, to share the financial burden of keeping up with the latest issues, Dad had an exchange program going with the Episcopal minister (and father of five) next door. They traded copies back and forth for years. I told you he was cheap.
I miss him.

I hope you have a dad in your life. He may not be the biological contributor, but love is not measured by DNA. Treasure every bad joke, every inappropriate or clunky comment, every moment he chooses to spend with you. Appreciate the efforts made to cheer you on, lift you up, and lessen the pain, even if they don't work. He cares enough to try, and it hurts him more than you know to see you go through life's inevitable adversities. And don't ever let him be all alone on Father's Day.

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