It seemed that my father Howard was always laying down the law. Or napping or hiding out in his basement workshop. Those were his main duties as lord and master, and he took his job seriously. Rarely he broke out of character. On a few occasions, though, he did fun, dad-like things. The memories of these events will always stay with me, not because they were particularly remarkable as far as dad-like things go, but for the fact that they happened at all.
Our family did not socialize with other families in our neighbourhood. We kids hung out together, but the parents never did. I was astonished one “Firecracker Day” when several families gathered in our yard at dusk. Every household contributed to the stash of fireworks, and as the host, Dad was in charge of setting off the rockets. Like any good showman, he kept the largest for the last. (Well, second to last. The Burning Schoolhouse was ALWAYS last.) Perhaps he misjudged the length of the fuse, or it misfired, but either way, I remember the flare, the bang, his body arching sideways onto the grass. Time paused. A shiver of alarm crept up my spine. I wasn’t worried about his well-being as much as I was worried that he’d react in anger. This day was full of surprises. He hopped back to his feet and laughed.
One summer, Mom and Dad rented a cottage on Lake Huron. What a treat that was. It was the one and only time we had a vacation away from home, as a family. The surf was high all week. Dad decided to make us a kite to take advantage of the big winds. He worked all morning lashing sticks and covering the frame in newsprint. He attached a tail and told us to get ready to go down to the beach. So excited was he to launch the kite, he headed out before we were ready. I came out of my room just in time to see him step outside. At that exact moment a blast of wind grabbed the kite and smashed it to bits. He cursed. He came back into the cottage and tried to slam the door, but even that was beyond him. The wind won. Poor dad. He really did try to do something nice for us, to play with us.
One Hallowe’en, though, all of his efforts paid off, without casualty. Before we set out for trick’r’treats, he said that someone wanted to talk to us.
He told us to never mind who, just go into the livingroom and see!
We did as we were told. We always did as we were told.
But there was no one in the livingroom. We looked at one another and looked to Dad for answers, but now Dad was gone, too!
Suddenly the image of a jack-o-lantern popped up on the television screen. An eerie voice called us by name. Giggles and shrill laughter and much amazement. The pumpkin asked each of us about our costumes and made spooky woo-woo noises. Then he told us to go have fun, to be careful, and to remember to say please and thank-you.
Dad was absent for much of my childhood. Physically, that is. An undercurrent of fear prevailed and we never knew when the ogre would rise from the basement to demand silence, to demand obedience, to demand retribution.
He knew how to make gestures of a loving father, but the night-time kisses were tainted by deliberately harsh bristles upon tender cheeks or buzzing raspberries in the ear.
This one Hallowe’en, though, behind his close-circuit TV mask, safe in his underworld, Dad delighted us.
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Categories: Mom and Dad
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