I had a minor professional disappointment last week, something I'd planned on not panning out. Not important, really. Ask Huey. But when I was lamenting this setback with Sis, she told me this excellent story about a similar conversation she'd had with our dad, a great little bead of hilarity and quintessential Dad Advice wrapped in black-humored hindsight.
Until very recently, Sis had not been employed by The Man, in a corporate environment, for some 14 months--the first half of that deliberate, the latter half increasingly, desperately not. Because they were both home all day, she found herself with many opportunities to chitty-chat with Dad on the phone, such that he was quite invested in her job search. I'm envious of these circumstances now--not the unemployment, duh, but of their regular, if random, conversations. Of how keyed in he was to her career trajectory, because I doubt my dad was ever really sure just what it is that I do for a living. "Write computer books" was about as close as he got to the truth. I do remember that when I went into management, I called to tell him the news. When I said I'd been promoted to manager, he exclaimed with pride--and extreme astonishment--"For all of NerdCo?!?" I can't describe how that irked and tickled me both: that my dad somehow thought I'd been plucked from obscurity to lead, like, 36,000 people for a multi-billion-dollar corporation, because, CATCH UP, DAD...but also that he sincerely believed I could do it. It was not outside his realm of possibility, for me. That's a vote of confidence I need to hold onto more tightly, now.
Anyway. So one day this spring, Sis happened to be on the phone with Dad at the precise moment she got an e-mail turning her down for a job she'd genuinely longed for. They'd gambled on the Other Guy, and she was devastated. Here is the first thing she says our father told her, in that moment: "You need a beer! Do you have any beer?"
Dad was never much of a drinker, to my recall; he might crack open a lone beer if the temperature got above 95 degrees. Or, on New Year's Eve, he'd consume a single shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, before tucking into bed. At 9:00 p.m. It's midnight somewhere. At his funeral, in the photo albums on display, I found snapshots of him in the mid-70s, sporting his Afro perm and brandishing a beer bottle, but that was not the man I knew.
This was, though: his immediate follow-up suggestion to Sis was "Go up to the Husky Deli and have a scoop of coconut ice cream!" Yeah. There is not one doubt in my mind that I inherited this gene from him; it's only slightly less obvious than the eyebrows, the considerable nose, that I see every morning in the bathroom mirror. There is never a wrong time for ice cream--any season, anywhere, any flavor, I will need no persuasion and I will not turn it down. Beer OR ice cream = not a contest. Also, surely someone must make beer ice cream, so point me at it, interwebs, and I will gladly taste it so you don't have to.
Dad had a longstanding relationship with the Schwan's delivery guy in his area. La Center isn't all that rural any more, and Schwan's is now a purveyor of frozen lasagnes and pizzas and chow mein and god-knows-what-all...but their legacy was ice cream, and Dad never didn't have half a dozen boxes of fudge pops and Neapolitan sandwiches stashed in the freezer. Or we'd drive out to this gas-pump mini-mart at some forgotten crossroads in farm country, where they had a drive-up window dispensing soft-serve cones: vanilla, chocolate, or "twist," the two flavors spiraled together in a frozen helix, the chocolate with flecks of real cocoa, rich and dark and gritty on your tongue.
When the funeral arrangements were still being determined, I made a joke about having a Schwan's truck in the cortege, or interring the ashes in a cardboard pint container. Sis got mad at me, and I regret that, I do...but I still find it funny, too. I'd like to think Dad would laugh. You could do so much worse, than to be delivered to your eternal rest in an ice cream truck. I might want that as my own second choice, right behind the Viking funeral with the boat and the flaming arrows.
Beer and ice cream. It's so him, it's so Dad, and in that it makes me laugh and wince both, not least because massive heart attack, you say? hmmm. In reading the Schwan's history linked above, I discovered what is surely no more than an unsettling coincidence: that Marvin Schwan, the company's founder, died on May 9 (my father's birthday), 1993. Of a heart attack. At the age of 64. Ice cream: a dangerous, delicious business.
But I am treasuring this little second-hand nugget of irrelevant career advice, Dad's best effort at long-distance comfort in a moment of crisis. I'm so grateful to Sis for sharing it with me, because it reminds me that, whatever conversations we did or didn't have, Dad is still in me. In the mirror, in the music, in the firm conviction that there is no ill so grave that a frozen dairy treat can't cure it, can't at least put you on the mend. Except, well, that one ill, I guess.