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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Heart and Humor of the Family

I've never written about my dad, but he was such an influence both durng his lifetime and after his death 15 years ago.  I think about him often and find myself sounding just like him, especially these past few months when we had young kids here.  I would say something and realize, "Oh gawd, I just channeled Dad!" 
The family--Mom, Brock, Jeff, Garret, Steven, Matthew, and I, which is the total of our small family--got together on Friday night to honor my sister, who died 10 years ago.  Her boys are wonderful men now--she'd be so proud of them.  When they were growing up, Dad would always find a way to make them laugh--and not just a little, but hugh belly laughs.  A favorite memory is playing Balderdash.  Dad could do a great 10 year old's definition of any word, which means including some kind of bathroom humor.   He adored those boys and was never happier than when he got to spend time with them.
People who knew Dad loved him.  I've tried to explain how he was to Matthew and other friends, but there's just no way to describe how he was with others.  He used language in a most unique way--many words that are bleeped out on TV--but with Dad, they made people laugh.  I mean who else can say that being called an asshole was a compliment? 
He wasn't happy all the time--he definitely had a temper.  But he would express it, get it out there, then it would be over.  I don't think he ever carried anger around with him--he let it go.  You knew when he was mad, but then life would return to normal.  I'd say he mostly got his way in our household--he was the dominate figure and his girls respected him.  He always came in and kissed us goodnight when we were little, and called "I love you" to each of us from the bedroom after we'd all gotten into bed.  He hugged us when we saw him and never left us without another hug.
I have many good memories of growing up in a house where there was much laughter.  Admittedly, I was never a morning person, so didn't always appreciate my parents' ability to wake up smiling and happy everyday, but they did.  If any of us, even Mom, tried to sleep in, Dad would give us his "cold water treatment," which meant he'd spritz us on the face or put a dab of cold water on our neck.  We could usually hear him coming because he'd give fair warning and the 'fighting' would begin with everyone laughing as Dad ran in with the cup of water.  Well, everyone else  not a morning person.
Born in Germany, sent here ahead of his parents for 2 years to live with an uncle in San Francisco, he never looked back.  He chose not to dwell on the negative about Germany or the losses his family suffered.  He preferred to enjoy life.  He used to tell Marianne and me he was born in San Francisco, and we never learned too much about his life before he came here.  He did mention putting girls' braids in ink wells in school, and his cousin Harry told us how he'd climb out the apartment window as a teenager living with his uncle and Harry would have to let him back in late at night.  No question about it--Dad was always a character.
He'd call me when I was living alone and say, "Do you still live in the same place?  We haven't been there in so long, we thought you'd moved.  When are we going to be invited for dinner?"  Subtle.  So then I'd invite them over on a night when I knew they already had plans, and he'd call me one of his famous names....but laughing.  And he could never say goodbye on the phone.  He'd keep talking and talking, so I'd ask to speak to Mom.  She'd get on the phone, I'd say "Bye, Mom" she'd say bye and hang up.  Sometimes, he'd call me back and laughingly call me another one of his famous names.
 One of my funniest moments with Dad was when he was lying in traction with a bad back.  His closet was always immaculately kept--I swear every hanger was 1.25" apart for his suit jackets and pants.  He had that German training....everything perfectly aligned.  I was in talking to him, and of course, he couldn't move, so I walked over to the closet, and shoved all his hangers to one side, then laughing, ran out of the room as Dad shouted, "Come back here, you little son-of-a-bitch!"   It was a very funny moment, but being a force to be reckened with, I had to put them back exactly as I found them before leaving the house. 
His death 15 years ago at age 80 left a big hole in the family.   Mom and I talk about how we're glad he died suddenly without some prolonged illness and before seeing his youngest go from cancer.  He lives on in our memories as a dominate force--affectionate, funny, caring.  He used to tell me men liked to date me because they enjoyed coming over to see him.  Ya know, he was probably right.

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