My parents, known as YiaYia and Papou to my half-Greek children, are up visiting this week and staying with my aunt because we don’t have an extra guest room and that’s a good thing because my mother and I get along much better when we don’t stay under the same roof. It’s one of those cases where distance makes the heart grow fonder and keeps us from yanking out each other’s larynx.
Notice I mentioned parents with an “s” because although my mom likes to take credit for everything, she can’t deny the scientific fact that half of my DNA comes from my dad. And according to my mom, that would be the half that causes me to actually care where important financial documents are kept and to be so anal as to spend three hours searching for that damn $.07 that decided to up and flee our checkbook. It’s also the same DNA that is responsible for any illness that befalls me, as well as my inability to cook a decent dinner on a daily basis.
I actually do not have too many memories of my father while growing up and I think this is because he worked a lot and traveled a lot and played golf a lot so he was a pretty unfamiliar figure to me as a young child, so much so that upon occasion, I would ask my mother who was the man sitting in our family room in our comfy recliner with his feet up and why was he watching our TV?
I do remember the one and only time Dad took my brother and me to the movies by himself. Why in God’s name we decided to see Porky’s is beyond all reason and rational thought. Let me tell you, you have not experienced complete and utter mortification until you spend two hours in a theater with your father and brother watching a gigantic screen filled with horny teenagers engaging in unparalleled raunchiness, which raunchiness was specifically geared to the teenagers-without-parents audience and specifically NOT to the middle-aged, balding, button-down-shirt-with-sweater, middle class man who had no clue what he was getting himself into when he asked his kids that morning “what do you want to do today?”
The situation escalated into sheer and complete JUST KILL ME NOW hell when this same middle-aged, balding, button-down-shirt-with-sweater, middle class man expressed his revulsion by loudly complaining at frequent intervals in the darkened theater that the morals of America have just gone to hell, interspersed with the occasional “oh my God!” and “Jesus Christ!” We didn’t leave the theater because we had paid to see a movie and by God, we were going to see a movie even if it caused irreparable damage to our psyches because at least we had gotten something for our money and walking out meant getting nothing for our money and this was one of the first lessons I learned in economics.
I also remember that my dad was a whiz at math and I would often kneel at the side of his recliner while he read my text book and helped me figure out algebra and geometry and trigonometry. This lasted up until calculus when someone decided to replace all the numbers with letters which pissed me off to no end and I decided that if I was going to study letters, I might as well major in English instead, so I did.
And I remember that my dad used to have a martini before dinner every night after he got home from work and sometimes I would even make it for him. One night at dinner, my brother and I declared in unison that our father was an alcoholic according to the parameters laid out by our respective fourth grade teachers who had taught us that an alcoholic was anyone who needed a drink a day. I’m sure we missed a vital part of that lesson somewhere but it didn’t really matter to us at the time. It’s not like we were upset about it or even gave it much thought at all. We were just responding to the question posed at every dinner, namely “what did you learn in school today” and I’m sure that bombshell was immediately followed by “and the square root of nine is three” and “can I have some more spaghetti, please?” My father, however, wasn’t so matter-of-fact about this scenario and in the dead silence that followed, he loudly demanded to know just where the hell his school taxes were going, besides down the toilet. For the record, my dad is not and never has been an alcoholic. His liver is intact although that is very surprising considering his typical martini could strip the chrome off Nate’s Durango and I’m seriously considering using his recipe to strip the wallpaper in our upstairs bathroom.
I remember my dad would sit in his recliner and our dog Chin Chin would jump on his lap and, starting with his left hand and running up his entire arm and down the other, proceed to lick every bit of salt off his skin. Can I just say, EEEWWWW. Obviously, I did not get that part of my dad’s DNA and instead, got the part that forces me to freak out if canine saliva touches me, thereby making me want to douse my entire body in bleach.
I remember my dad walked me down two aisles in two weddings and was gracious enough not to declare déjà vu at the second one.
My father may have stayed on the sidelines as an interested spectator during my adolescence, but he is vastly different with his grandchildren. Sometimes I feel like I should demand to see his license for identification. The difference in his personality is most likely attributed to the very real fact that he does not live with his grandchildren, he is not responsible for their food, shelter or clothing and he can give them back if they whine, fight or kick a soccer ball through his floor-to-ceiling picture window while he’s at work.
He doesn’t have to clean up after them and he will never have to relive a nightmare of coming home to a basket case of a wife standing in their nursery and dropping to his knees from the stench emanating from the ten pounds of poo that had been wiped, smeared and rubbed into every crevice of not one, but two cribs, as well as all the wall space that can be reached and slathered by two sets of little hands that belong to 18 month old twins who had found a fun way to spend nap time. Poo duty reverted to me years ago and I’m glad to say that my daughters did not inherit DNA that makes them finger paint with feces. Thank you God.
He never again has to risk life and limb by teaching them how to drive and wind up stuck in the middle of a busy intersection because a sixteen year old freaked out when green turned to red, slammed on the brake and yelled WHERE THE HECK DID YELLOW GO? DID YOU SEE IT? He no longer has to sweat buckets wondering how high his insurance premiums are going to skyrocket when and if that particular sixteen year old actually manages to get a license. I did get my license, thank you very much, and now I’m the one sweating those very same buckets.
He doesn’t have to demand explanations when he is confronted by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that some kind of gathering, most like a party of some sort, occurred while he and his wife were away for the weekend. Now I’m the one who is declaring a moratorium on all kid-less vacations until our kids turn forty.
He never again has to stand by and struggle for words when a shy, self conscious eighteen year old gets stood up and cries herself to sleep. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t have to even think about the whole shitload of testosterone out there just waiting to wreak havoc upon any of his female offspring ever again. That burden has been passed down to me now. Payments on our new assault rifle are almost finished.
He doesn’t have to pay for diapers, formula, school supplies, clothes that will be outgrown in three weeks, soccer cleats every season, braces, acne treatments, feminine hygiene products, field trips, text books, nose jobs, therapy, a wedding or bail ever again.
Just kidding about the bail part. But if he ever knew how close he came …
In other words, he can relax and enjoy his grandchildren.
He can snuggle with them on the couch …
He can indulge his youngest and pretend that he has hair and let her make him pretty …
He can give himself a physical when they remark that he looks icky and fling a plastic stethoscope at him …
He can act like he’s scared out of his mind when they fall to the ground directly in front of him during hide and seek and pop up with a loud “BOO” when he asks where oh where did they go?
But above all, he can make sure that the costume YiaYia made will hang correctly and evenly and won’t unravel or fall apart, thus ensuring that his granddaughter will thoroughly enjoy her Halloween and not have the misfortune of an annoying or potentially humiliating wardrobe malfunction.
Because I ask you, who wants to have to live down an embarrassing outfit?
Not my dad. He’s a pretty good Papou that way.