by Laura Snyder This Father’s Day, like every other Father’s Day, my thoughts go careening back to the time I was a mouthy teenager. My father was often upset with me for some smartaleck comment I would make. Even then, I guess, I was in training to be a humor columnist — but with remarkable hindsight, I can see now that practicing my sassiness on my dad wasn’t the smartest thing I could’ve done.
He was proud of me when I stuck up for myself with other people; with him, however, he probably wished I would shut my trap before he needed to ground me again.
My dad was a man who valued moments of solitude that are rare in a family of six. There was nothing he liked to do better than sit in a forest glade for hours, waiting for a deer to appear. He must have hated to shoot it to supplement our family’s grocery bill. Otherwise, sitting out in the woods for hours would’ve seemed like a waste of time. At least, that’s what I liked to think.
He was conflicted like that a lot. The vacations we took were always fishing trips. He would’ve loved to go fishing out in a boat on a quiet lake all by himself, but being of a practical nature, almost to a fault, he had to concede that more fish could be caught if all six of us were in that boat with lines in the water.
So there we were: four loud, life-jacketed children and two adults trying to keep up with the hook-baiting. We’d sing songs, softly. Dad said if we sang too loud we’d “scare the fish away.” I used to wonder how we would scare them away because I never saw a single fish that had ears. Now that I’m a parent, I know that the soft singing was to ensure my parent’s sanity.
We’d invent poems to lure the fish to our lines. Poems like: “Fishy, fishy in the brook, won’t you come and bite my hook.”
Throughout these childish shenanigans, my dad, chainsmoking his way through his second pack of Lucky Strikes and wearing his favorite fishing hat, would calmly steer the boat, bait hooks and bail out the boat when water accumulated. The bailing bucket was also a visible, silent threat. We knew that if anyone had to go to the bathroom while we were out, they had to use the bucket, because my dad warned, “We’re not going back until we’re done fishing!” Thanks to Dad, we are all blessed with gigantic bladders now.
We were never sure what the barometer for “done” was, though. Was it measured in hours, in the number of fish caught, or was it measured by the shade of red in my parents’ faces before they exploded? Now that I am a parent, I can say that perhaps “done” was the moment just before Dad gave in to the urge to throw us all in the lake and make us swim back to the cabin.
My father tried to teach us many rules to live by: Don’t talk back. Get good grades. Don’t pass gas at the kitchen table. Eat your vegetables. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t pass in a no-passing zone. Don’t cheat on your spouse. Don’t divorce.
But no matter what he’d taught his kids, my father lived by his own set of rules. He was the king of “Do as I say, not as I do.” For those of us who chose to listen to him, life turned out pretty good. For those of us who chose to emulate him, life is still a struggle.
So, I guess you could say that my father always knew what the right thing to do was, but many times he chose not to do it. Dad lived his life on his own terms… and died the same way, on September 9, 1985 – before we were done needing him