Friday, February 06, 2009

Remember who your dad really is

Yes, I am quoting the Bush twins. Roll with me, and we'll see if I can bring this thing around.

* * * * *

It’s been three weeks already, since I was driving to Mom’s and listening to This American Lifeepisode 372, The Inauguration Show. So, pre-Inauguration, technically. It was the final act that got me: the segment where multiple reporters interviewed people all across the country for their thoughts and feelings about the new President coming up over the horizon. They talked to barflies and ecstatic, astounded civil-rights activists, a smattering of OMG SEKRIT MUSLIM!!!1! paranoiacs, a kid in Kentucky whose friend registered as a Republican and voted for Obama just to mess with the party’s collective psyche. And then there was the guy who was excited for the new administration not because of any identifiable political agenda—or none that he cared to discuss—but because he had been teaching himself to belch the new President’s name.

Did we want to hear his first name? Just his last? Or the whole magilla? “Don’t distract me with your laughter,” the man said gravely, and the reporter obligingly stifled his giggles while the subject gulped preparatory air. A tense moment, and then: “BuuuUUHRACKOBUHMUH,” a froggy exhalation. The reporter dissolved, and me? I burst out laughing and crying in the same instant, because it was gross, and juvenile, and totally, exactly something my father would have done. Used to do, in fact. Dad had a belchy repertoire--sections of the alphabet, a few names he favored: Ralph, Bruce. No one we knew, but names that lent themselves well to the medium. Of burping. Rrraaaaalllph!

I stumbled into Mom’s for our lunch date looking…emotional, and bless her, because as soon as I began fumbling to explain this asinine, hilarious, heart-tugging pang, she knew immediately where my mind had gone. “You thought of your dad,” she said calmly, patting my back in a hug, and I laughed on, and wiped my eyes, and then pulled myself together enough to get down on the floor and install her digital cable converter. Which I am sure I would also need to be doing for my dad if he was still alive.

I don’t know, really, what Dad would have made of President Obama. I suspect that he would not have been thrilled, would be dubious and wary at best, however troubled he’d been by Dubya’s hellish muddle in Iraq. Sis reports that stepmom Kathy declared, in one of their recent conversations, that Dad would have really admired the Vietnam-vet contender, “McClain.” Um. No Beltway wonk she, ol’ Kathy. So I can’t guess how Dad might have filled out his ScanTron bubble, given the opportunity. But I can easily picture him shotgunning a store-brand diet soda and standing precipitously in the kitchen, a little bug-eyed with held breath and anticipation, grinning, mischievous, in the pregnant pause before he let fly.

* * * * *

In recent weeks, I’ve started dreaming about my dad, though he’d never previously been a fixture of my REM-cycle universe. A couple nights ago, I dreamed that I had gone down to La Center to visit him. I was riding around with him in his truck, for a lunch outing or something, and it was taking too long and frankly quite tedious and I was fretting about needing to get back…somewhere, home or work or something. But part of the reason it was taking forever was that he was adamant about making a little side trip to go visit his grave. This was not bizarre, in the dream, only awkward and exasperating. It was only upon waking that I had some questions, not least of which was “should I have let the dead man drive?”

Also funny was that when we eventually arrived at the cemetery, someone else was having a huge blowout funeral picnic barbecue event of some sort, crowding all the plots with their Igloo coolers and memorial quilts and what have you, and Dad was even more annoyed. Because they were all in his way. How could you even find the damn stone in this mess? And finally, there was some sort of Eternal Flame monument in his area of the cemetery, but it was decidedly NOT eternal, because it had a slot for change or dollar bills like a vending machine, and you had to feed it some cash to get the flame to belch briefly alight. Which my father grumpily did.

I woke from this feeling jolly, rather than bereft. It was comforting, in a way I am hard-pressed to describe: that nine months in the afterworld had changed Dad not at all. Nor had our relationship changed in the slightest. He drove, he complained reflexively about traffic and immigrants and What Things Cost, and I feigned patience and let his most offensive statements roll off my shoulders and away, surreptitiously checking my watch. As ever, I was quietly amused by his bluster, the terrible jokes he’d gotten off the Internet. There we were, tooling down the highway, exactly the same and still ourselves.

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