“You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil MUST be lead.” Stan Laurel (One of Dad’s favorite quotes)
My God the day got away from me. This one will be a bit brief, only because I find myself chasing a clock to midnight. Sorry Dad, you got back burnered a little. But we’ll go into that in a more real sense in a couple of days.
I had mentioned in Day 2’s post that my father would have probably picked on me if we were children at the same time, and that this was something I would discuss further today.
I don’t think Dad picked on me in a real way, I want to clear that up first and foremost, but I do think he had some issues understanding the power of some of the things he said to me. But I do know he would have been mortified to know how long they’ve stuck with me, even though he would have understood.
When I was around 8 years old I remember sitting at our imposing and round dining room table opposite my father, his head encircled in a wreath of cigarette smoke, talking about something. I honestly don’t remember what. But we got talking about how hairy he was. It’s a family trait amongst the fellas, the possibly sweet/possibly murderous eyes, and a healthy amount of body hair.
Okay, not really that bad by a long shot, but more than is the societal norm. The cruel joke in all of this is that Dad was reduced to a horseshoe of hair around the back of his head. He went bald, or at least balding fairly early in his life. I wish I remembered how Dad and I got on the subject of body hair that day, but I don’t. I only remember what he said next. “Well, by the time you’re 40 you’ll be bald and hairy and won’t be able to find a woman who loves you.” And then he laughed.
I did too at the time, but it was more because I didn’t know what else to do. That scared me. Was I going to be some big, hairy monster that would hide like Quasimodo in a tower somewhere so as to not offend the population? It’s a comment that stuck with me.
Sticks with me. I won’t lie, I still fight that sentence in my head.
In high school I physically dreaded P.E. for two reasons: I was pathetic at most sports, and I was terrified I would be put on the “skins” team of a shirts v. skins game. I usually would fake a stomach illness when I found myself on the wrong side of that coin flip, or if I was lucky enough to be in a class with a friend on the other team, I’d convince him to swap. I don’t go to the beach, I don’t swim in pools, and I can’t wear tank tops. I’ve never gone skinny dipping and I’m so uncomfortable in my own skin I can’t do something as simple as hang out in a jacuzzi with friends. I’ll sit on the side, fully clothed, and talk until I feel like I’m just creepy. And then I’ll excuse myself.
Take a look at that photo above again. I KNOW it’s not true. I could side by side the photo with a photo of me and see how different they are. But you know what? That photo is how I feel.
I’m 42 now, two years past Dad’s prophetic, throw away date. How am I doing? Well I’ve never been married. I don’t have any kids. The longest relationship I’ve had in my 42 years is just over 5 years. On the surface it doesn’t look so good. Maybe we should change the perspective some.
I’m not bald. Thinning? Sure. I could build a phase 2 of some tiny, theoretical housing development on the lengthening expanse of my forehead, and there’s a little bit of scalp that pokes through my crown. But I’ve got my hair. Strike one. I’m hairy. Nearly a body double for my old man. Complete with the nice and manly hair on my forearms that has overstayed its welcome and crawled up my triceps, across my shoulders and then cascading down the front and back like black cotton candy. I’m even greying in the chest in the same way he did. You hit that one out of the park. Sure my longest relationship is 5 years, but it’s 5 years AND COUNTING, and she’s amazing. Pretty sure she loves me, too. Sorry pop. Another strike.For a while I thought I had “beaten” him by not fulfilling all his prophecy. And then I started thinking about another story he told me.
When he was in the Air Force, he found himself with some down time on a hot summer day and made his way to the enlisted men’s pool. He was doing laps when an older woman (probably honestly a little older than me, but context is everything) walked in and laid out her book and towel on a chaise near the pool. She asked my father what he was doing there.
He said it was the enlisted men’s pool, and he was an enlisted man.
She said, “go cover up, you’re ruining my appetite.”
He reminded her it was the enlisted men’s pool.
She said, “Not today,” and introduced herself as a general’s wife. It seemed the officer’s pool was being drained and cleaned.
She then ignored my father and summoned some nearby MPs who were escorting her, “Will you boys please take this hairy animal somewhere he belongs and out of my sight?”
He was then escorted by two armed men, out of the pool area he had every right to be in simply because he was too hairy for a general’s wife.
This story was one of the things I would cling to while I was growing up as proof that I was going to be a monster.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago, when I had begrudgingly accepted the good, bad and societally unacceptable parts of my physique that I saw the story for what it was: My father was crying on his 8 year old son’s shoulder.
It was everything he was afraid of. It was the mirror he held back on himself. Sure, he was comfortable taking his shirt off at the beach when I was a kid, but it was also the 70’s. Lots of things were hairier back then. But I don’t think he was ever really comfortable in himself.
I look at that photo of Bigfoot again. And I understand it again.
He hadn’t meant to cause the stress for me that he did. He needed someone to commiserate with. Unfortunately he chose someone who wasn’t yet in the same boat. I wish he had told me the story about the pool when I was a teenager. I would have understood it so much better I think. I COULD have commiserated with him. I could have taken power from it. Had I been older, I could have been a good friend to listen. As it stands, I’m a pretty bad friend. It took me until years after his death to understand because I couldn’t see past myself. But our timing was off.
Poor timing was an odd theme in our relationship, up until his death, and now I find it to be a trait I’m carrying with me. I’ll get into that tomorrow, I’m already over my word count and past my due date.
Part 04 will be coming later today.
Goodnight pop. I hope you’re somewhere carefree and happy, shirtless and basking in the sun.