Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day: My Dad

Re-posting from last year...

My dad died on December 18, 1973, just before my 20th birthday. He was 45 years old. I wrote this essay for a college English class some 10 years later; the assignment was to write a character analysis, or some such thing. 

Early Bird

My dad with my sister and me (on the right)
My father was an early riser.  He was up with the sun every morning, waking always before the alarm clock had a chance to clang its reveille.  By the time the rest of the family began to stir, the bathroom was already warm and steamy from Dad’s bath; the fog on the mirror hid the reflections of our bleary-eyed faces.  I would hold my breath against the damp odors of shaving cream, after-shave lotion, and deodorant, and wrinkle my nose at the pile of underwear and pajamas Dad invariably left atop the hamper.

Traces of those bathroom odors hovered around my father where he sat at the kitchen table in his blue terry-cloth bathrobe (the one we’d bought him for Father’s Day) and his black slippers (the ones we’d bought him for his birthday).  One hand held an electric razor that buzzed about his face, erasing the bristly beard that was so heavy he saved twice a day.  His other hand alternated between lifting a cup of black coffee to his lips and turning the pages of the morning newspaper.  Though his store didn’t open till nine o-clock, he was always dressed and out the door before the rest of us had finished breakfast.

Dad was an early bird who missed the worm because the worm wasn’t up yet.  His guiding principle seemed to be that if he was ten minutes early, he was still five minutes late.  He did not apply the rule only to himself; his watch was set five minutes fast, and our punctuality was judged by its unrelenting hands.  Going anywhere with Dad was like booking a flight on an airplane, with one difference: Dad’s schedule always ran early.  Every trip had an established departure time; half an hour before take-off, Dad habitually leaned his portly frame against the front door, stuffed his hands into the pockets of his baggy pants, and jingled the coins and keys that lay therein.  He molded his face into a slightly amused, tolerant expression, relying on his thick-lensed, black-framed bifocals to hide the impatience in his blue eyes.

Dad with his 3 daughters - I'm on the right. My sisters
said I was adopted because I didn't look like them.
But...hah!...everyone said I looked like my dad!
We were never late when we went with Dad, but being early sometimes caused problems. Once, when I was in kindergarten, Dad took me to school; I was in the afternoon class, but Dad dropped me off well before lunch time.  The teacher didn’t know whether I was late for the first session or early for the second. She was confused, I was in tears, and Dad was in a hurry.  By the time we were in high school, we’d learned to decline his offer of a ride to school; it meant a walk of two miles, but at least we avoided the inconvenience of arriving before any of the buildings had been opened.  We also learned to have Mom chauffer our gang of friends to the Friday night football games, knowing that if Dad drove, we’d be early even for the junior varsity game.

His chronic earliness made Dad a seldom-seen figure around our house.  Constantly hurrying off to various appointments and meetings, he worked long hours to keep his floundering drapery business afloat.  There were times when his presence was so unfamiliar it seemed an intrusion into the all-female world I shared with my mother and two sisters.  In other ways, though, he was a permanent fixture around which our lives revolved.

In the evening, my father relaxed by watching the news on television.  A bottle of beer, a tall glass, and a shot of whiskey accompanied him to the living room, where they shared a table with a butt-filled ashtray.  Dad would loosen his shoelaces and free his feet, adding dirty sock stench to the already present odors of cigarette smoke and booze.  He’d sink back in his fat armchair with a heavy sigh and sip his liquor while he stared slack-jawed at the black-and-white flickerings before him.

The whole family
Dad relaxed on weekends now and then; sometimes he took us fishing or picnicking.  His face softened and the corners of his mouth turned up in a little smile that had less than the usual sarcasm lurking behind it.  On these occasions, Dad traded his plain dark business suit for tan slacks and a gray sweatshirt, and he let the wind brush his wavy, black hair.  He refused, however, to wear anything on his feet but heavy-soled wing-tips, asserting that any man over thirty who wore tennis shoes was only trying to be a kid again.

Dad’s first heart attack, at age 45, slowed him down somewhat.  He spent two weeks in the hospital, surprising us all by giving up cigarettes and growing a distinguished-looking salt-and-pepper beard during that period.  He stopped working at the request of his doctors and took up oil painting to fill his empty hours.  The changes didn’t last long, though; Dad was chain-smoking again as soon as he was released from the hospital, and the beard came off a few days later.  He soon replaced his oil paints with acrylics, because they dried faster.

Dad hurried himself right along to an early grave.  Six months after the first heart attack, a second one followed, and this one he did not survive.  Even in death, the aura of punctuality surrounded my father; a friend who was ten minutes late to Dad’s funeral missed the entire ceremony.

My dad, a few months before his death at age 45.


  1. Thanks Jay, prayers for your dad today.

  2. This was a great read! I feel like I can relate to your dad. I too have that need to be early. It can drive you crazy when no one wants to cooperate. : )

  3. Thanks for that post. I'll say an Ave for your dad.

  4. Thanks for the prayers! And HSE - that need to be early was so ingrained in me, it took a long time to get over it! I worked for many years on just being on time.


Please be courteous and concise.