As the time approaches for the date of my dad’s death, I guess I have been thinking more about him. When I was railing against him as a youth and testing the outer limits of what I could get away with, I sometimes marvel at the patience he exhibited with me. I always told myself that Dad grew up in a completely different time — old times.
A person that was “hip” and “with it” was thought of as “cool.’ Dad didn’t even know the meaning of the word “cool.” He associated with frigid temperatures, and he certainly couldn’t be cool. I, on the other hand, was cool. I was a product of the sixties. When I was halfway through high school I already had more education than he got as a high school student back in the Paleolithic age.
How could a man that got his formal education when F.D.R. was president know what was better for me. But Dad used to say, “You will feel differently when you are in my shoes someday.” He was right as rain. When I became a father, I was just like him.
One of my memories was of a New Years Eve and a clunky old clock. I was a Senior in high school and as a Senior, I was the height of cool. I figured that this entitled me to a big party and a night out as long as I could stay awake. I also thought that I was too cool to ask permission on this special night when the whole world parties.
“I will see you next year! Don’t wait up!” I said to Dad as I prepared to leave the house. Dad didn’t say anything. He was simply standing near the kitchen winding an old alarm clock. (For you younger folks reading this, the technology hadn’t had its heyday back then, and you actually had wind up an alarm clock daily if you wanted it to keep time and wake you.) This alarm was almost an antique by my standards back then and was one of those with two bells on the top with with a clanger between them. When the alarm clock reached the designated time the clanger would ring the two bells and it was a totally obnoxious sound that could disturb people in the next area code. When you wound it up even the ticking sound be heard ten feet away.
“What are you doing, Pop?” I asked as he carefully worked on the alarm clock. “I am setting the alarm clock.”
“Out her in the kitchen? Shouldn’t it go by your bed?
“Oh, it’s not to make sure I’m awake in the morning, this is for you, Son.”
“Well, I won’t need an alarm,” I said, “I will be getting in really late and sleeping the day away. It’s New Years Eve you know!”
“I know what day it is,” he said with amazing calm. “I also know you aren’t of age and I am responsible for you.”
“So what are you doing anyway, Pop.”
“Well, son, I am giving you an extra hour on your curfew so you can bring in the new year. You don’t have to be in until one A.M.”
“But Dad, I was thinking all night . . .”
Dad ignored and just kept fiddling with that old alarm clock. “I know what you were thinking. I’ll set this alarm for five minutes after one. If you get home before that, turn it off. If you don’t turn it off, that old clanger will wake me up. It sure would be a shame if the alarm would awaken me.”
I got the message. Loud and clear! I was angry. I was upset. Dad was so unfair and stupid. (What parent hasn’t heard that before?) What did he know what was best for me? I felt cheated. but that old clanger did not wake up my dad. He slept soundly all night.
Times change, I guess, but people don’t. I used the same inspired practice on my own two delinquents. And I was called as fair as Stalin and stupider than bathroom mildew. I didn’t have an old clanger as dad did but the result was the same. I had become my dad.