Thursday, February 28, 2008
Happy Birthday, Dad
My dad would have been fifty today.
Actually, I'm ashamed to say I didn't remember this until partway through the morning. Yesterday was a mad dash of writing, revising, driving, waiting, mailing, writing, submitting, driving, waiting, driving some more, writing some more, speaking, teaching, learning, and more driving. (I also managed to squeeze in time to read a Magic Tree House book to my son, wash some urine-soaked Superman sheets, engage in an overly long tickle fight at his behest, and have a spirited debate on whether I will or will not purchase any more frickin' Kid Cuisine meals if a certain person only eats the smallest portion of each.) Tomorrow is likely to be more of the same, and by this time next month I will need to have reached some pretty significant milestones that I'm not sure I can reach. So this morning was more of an in-between, a respite. I wrote, but not as feverishly. I took my son to school. I answered a few e-mails and received my daily dose of frustration that comes from speaking to a particular editor. I noticed that the grackles in town seem to have learned to use a local crosswalk, and resolved to write a short piece about it. And then I typed the date on a document. February 28, 2008. Wow.
Today my dad would have been fifty.
This June 30, he'll have been gone thirteen years.
In ten years, I'll be as old as he was when he died.
That second figure startles me the most, actually. Thirteen years. That's almost half my life, yet it seems as if it's only the tail end of my time-on-Earth-so-far that has been spent without him.
Apparently, I'm not the only one. In third grade, I got my dad in a bit of hot water for repeating this joke to my teacher (his coworker):
"Hey! You know why a pool table is green?"
"You'd be green too if someone was knocking your balls around all day! Bwahaha!"
A few years ago, I was stopped by a school counselor I hadn't seen in ages. "Did you hear the one about the pool table?" she asked immediately. Apparently it's now part of school-district lore.
But it was because of who it came from, though I'd dearly love to take credit for my stand-up-comedy prowess at an early age. My dad was so many things to so many people: a father, husband, coach, community organizer, teacher... I could go on. But his memory and legacy deserves far more than to be reduced to a eulogy or annual tribute. He'd likely be telling me now to wrap it up, or maybe to tell the one about the dwarf at the circus.
My dad is responsible for so much of who I am. My determination. My love of reading. My stubbornness. (My mother will call me "Brian" on occasion, when she's contending with some bull-headed, unbending stand of mine. I choose to take it as a compliment, although this may not be the effect she's going for at the time.) My total inability to sing, but total love for it. My style of expressing opinions (though not all my opinions, which made for some, um, enthusiastic communiques between my father and me). My overly thorough knowledge of baseball stats and Marvel comics. Pretty much all the mathematical knowledge I ever acquired. The only way of looking at religion and faith that has ever made sense to me.
I could go on. Even my writing comes from him, and though he never pursued publication, I'd venture to say he'd have far surpassed any of my meager efforts. Here's a piece he wrote as a high school senior, of which I keep a copy, tattered from reading and re-reading:
Awaking in a foreign world,
Pulling off eyelid blankets.
Crawling and groping through early morn,
New sensations thrilling the infantile mind.
Rose petals are his playmates,
Eternity his backyard.
Dressed in his mother's branches,
This new, strange creature called Youth.
Morning leaves, and youth follows,
A mature afternoon creature comes.
The rose petals are scattered,
Like so many problem seeds.
Standing upright and proud, so proud,
Not looking back to morn,
Nor gazing ahead to night,
This independent afternoon, manhood.
Now manhood becomes aged,
Back to Mother he goes.
A cane gives him three legs,
And this life day sees its end.
The sun goes down on life,
Age has dreams of morning and noon.
Night comes on, final enveloping,
And these dreams become sleep.
My dad was known for things. And even when the thing itself wasn't good, somehow he'd turn it into an endearing eccentricity, a positive. Case in point: his singing. He could read music forward and backward, and played the clarinet beautifully, and he liked to sing ... but I don't think anyone has had the same odd combination of talent in music and total lack of vocal cord cooperation (though the torch of singing passion-with-suckitude has been passed on to me). It's a standing joke in our family; we have only to hum the smallest snippet the song Gloria in Excelsis Deo! to send each other into waves of eye-rolling laughter. This is because my sister and I remember Dad belting out the song in Mass as if it were being sung by a reverent, overzealous, slightly neurotic Santa Claus: "Glo! Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, Ho-ho-ho-ho-hooooor...ria!"
We remember him scrunching up his long face until it was all lines, pretending he can hit the high notes in a Beach Boys tune.
There are countless other memories, too, as I'm sure there always are with good fathers. I remember reading and re-reading a twenty-year-old copy of A Wrinkle in Time, remembering how my dad and I read and re-read it all summer one year, just to see how it came together.
I remember this awful thin, gaudy, too-tight red and yellow T-shirt he had, emblazoned with "He who dies with the most toys wins," with actual toys (he managed a toy store before becoming a teacher). He'd wear it with even more awful too-short shorts. My mom happened to lose these types of clothes with startling regularity, which was odd because she never lost anything else.
My dad's legacy was one of fascination, humor, total abandon, willingness to look silly. It was unabashed wonder.
David wants to know as much as he can learn about my father, his grandfather. Today I took my son to the Four Peaks Elementary School softball field, named Brian Hosey Field in honor of my father. We were the only ones there. My son walked over to the sign honoring my dad, felt the raised lettering. We talk quite a bit about his grandpa and how proud he would be of his grandson. David read the sign a few times -- he can read now, something about which I'm sure my dad would be particularly pleased -- turned on the balls of his feet, and ran with total abandon over the field. He coerced me to run too, and we ran until we were both winded. We collapsed on the field, and just laid there for a long moment.
We came home, made some ridiculously rich brownies, and I left the room to get a few things done. From the living room I hear this:
"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you; Happy Birthday dear Grandpa; Happy Birthday to you."
And then: "Mom, when am I going to be old enough to watch X-Men?"
My dad lives on.
And I know he would appreciate this: on the way home, my son asked me, "Mom, what are huevos?"
"I heard someone say this morning that he has huevos grande. What does that mean?"
"Uh ... eggs. Big eggs."
"Oh. Like at breakfast?"
"OK. Because I asked the recess teacher what huevos grande were, but she just said it was time to go inside."
The one about the pool table can't be far behind.