Not that it’s unusual or anything, but I grew up on the music that my parents listened to. That meant I knew all the words to every song by The Pogues, Todd Rundgren, David Bowie, Billy Bragg, The Smiths, Morrissey, Elvis Costello, The Stranglers, Rancid, The Del Fuegos, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. As a toddler, I sang Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” while swinging my legs in the grocery cart seat. When we sang The Pogues’ “Fairtytale of New York” together, my parents tried pretty unsuccessfully to muddle out the part that says, “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot.” Our home was constantly flooded with music blasting from my dad’s two three hundred-disc CDs that he would put on random. It would be years before we heard the same song twice. My first concert was The Roches, with my mom and dad, and I missed school so I could stay up late for really good shows on school nights—they had to be really good shows. All that school-missin’ is why I was always so bad at biology, probably. I could have been a doctor.
In 1992, we drove all over the entire state of Colorado. Our first stop in the rental car was a music store, where my dad purchased the latest They Might Be Giants tape Apollo 18, and we listened to it so much that I cannot picture the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde or sun-soaked mountains of Vail without “My Evil Twin” or “Turn Around” floating through my head. We almost are never in the car without singing. Once in a work meeting after the holidays, my boss asked everyone to share our favorite holiday moment. Mine was the 30 minutes my parents and I spent parked at the bottom of our driveway after coming home from a drunken Italian meal, singing our heads off. We stayed parked there because we didn’t want to be home and drive inside. We didn’t want the night to end.
When I got my first CD player, my dad immediately started curating my collection. I don’t think he saw it as an indulgence—it was a serious part of my education. We would go to Spinners every week and I would follow him around as he perused the albums alphabetically, before choosing one and putting it in my hands. It was then I was introduced to Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Son Volt, Tupac, and The Eels. But it was also Tracy Bonham, Heather Nova, Veruca Salt, Patti Rothberg, Aimee Mann, Hole, Sam Phillips, The Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, Concrete Blonde, Chrissie Hynde, and Patti Smith. He told me that he wanted me to hear all the women singers so that I knew I could be whatever I wanted to be one day.
My dad took me to Wilco shows—one at the Fillmore—and we saw Pink and Everclear at The House Of Blues (Man, Dad—remember that warm-up band? Blaauughhhhrrrgghhaahh) and They Might Be Giants at Mr. Smalls. Dad would meet me downtown Cleveland after work for a Roots show and be the only person in the entire audience in a suit and tie. We went to Vans Warped Tour and Lollapalooza. I saw Elvis Costello with Allen Toussaint, Death Cab for Cutie, Ahmad Jamal, Sonic Youth, Little Jimmy Scott, and Todd, Todd, Todd with my dad. When he came to visit me in New York City, we went to a Shelby Lynn concert, had dinner, then rushed to a Pharoah show on the other side of town. In the cab, we split my headphones and sang along with Todd Rundgren so loudly we couldn’t hear the taxi driver tell us to get out of the car. We went to a Sun Ra Arkestra concert and stayed until the end to meet Marshall Allen, one of my dad’s music heroes. “I like your music,” my dad told him, “because it’s all about the order and the chaos.” Mr. Allen, age 89, started getting impassioned repeating that. “You can’t have order without the chaos!” Every time Marshall Allen is in town, I try to go for my dad, because, as Dad says, Mr. Allen won’t be around for much longer.
My dad has shaped my music taste. The music I love was a gift from him. He texts me every week, telling me to check out the newest Big Boi or Japandroids or Metric or Hostile Amish. Lots of people say that they love all music, but my dad really does. He appreciates bands because he studies them, is fascinated by their notes and their words.
Father’s Day is always a challenging holiday because I never know what to say to my dad. How can I thank him for what he does for me every day? How can I tell him how much I love him? The answer is to focus on something small. Thank him for one trivial thing with a little wink, so that he’ll know that I mean yes thank you for that thing, but thanks for all the other stuff, too.
So this year, I’ll say thank you for music, Dad. Thank you for shielding me from A Flock Of Seagulls and other shitty ‘80s bands, thank you for teaching me to open my ears, and thank you for teaching me I can be whoever I want to be. Wink, wink.
To celebrate Father’s Day, these stories are about dads. Enjoy How I Learned To Swim by Jason Leonard, Dad’s Recipe by Dino Tadiar, I Am Orlando Bloom’s Daughter by Alexandra Rosas, and The Parent Muga Is by Erin Hart.
How I Learned To Swim
All my life, I think I can list the amount of positive male role models I’ve had on one hand. Whether they were like my own father: absent, abusive and make you struggle for every shred of self-worth you could get, or like the myriad wastrels and drug addicts I have been exposed to (also known as extended family), all the men in my life have been a letdown save one. My maternal grandfather has been the subject of my admiration for many years. Nowadays, he is simply like every other Fox news addled elderly person, but I don’t think I so much admire what he is so much as what he was. He was a police officer and a soldier; a person who could handle any situation both gently and with scathing bluntness. Now I could tell many stories about him, about his time in Korea and his collection of dead Korean’s ears or about how, when he was dating my grandmother, hand cuffed her to an oven to prevent from going on a date with another man. While all these examples represent how he was a man who knew how to get things done, I think the best way of conveying what sort of direct, problem solving man that I could never be is how I learned to swim.
My grandfather owned a boat and a house on Claytor Lake, a small lake in Pulaski County where we spent a lot of our time in the summers until they moved back to Wytheville. When they moved, they kept the boat there and that was pretty much where every free weekend was spent. My grandmother would pack a lunch and my brother and my mother would be swimming. My grandparents would not—my grandfather because of a heart problem that comes with years of hard living, and my grandmother because of her perfect cotton ball puff hair-do. I had always wanted to swim, but didn’t know where to start. I approached my grandfather with this conundrum. (Listen, I was 6 and this was about as big as my problems got.) He said he knew a sure way to help me learn.
He grabbed one of the anchor ropes and tied it around my waist. He then got on my level and said, “I am going to throw you off the boat and you have to trust me. If something happens I will pull you up.” Basically, he tied me like a dog to a leash, and threw me screaming and flailing all appendages into the murky depths. I hit the water and went under, another lesson that I learned that day was that I HATE having water go up my nose. I blame all of my current sinus problems on being forced to inhale this grimy mixture of algae and fish shit. When submerged under the water I swore that I felt Flotsam and Jetsam from the Little Mermaid nibbling at my toes. But, then the unexpected happened. I floated. I bobbed to the surface, much like a corpse, but HEY! I wasn’t one! And I was swimming in the loosest definition of the word, much in the same way that a cat ‘swims’. And I had dignity for the first time in my life! TO this day, I am comfortable in any depth of water, and it doesn’t faze me to be in the middle of water that is fathoms deep, because I can depend on my buoyancy and cunning to take of the rest.
This is what my grandfather taught me, he taught me that if you want something to happen, you make it happen. When you see an obstacle, don’t stand on comment on the size of the obstacle and don’t bemoan what is ahead, just do whatever it takes to conquer it. And no matter what the ravages of time have done to this once vital man, I will always remember where he has been, and what he has done. The life lessons that I have learned from a man with integrity that I wish to emulate in my own life. But the most important lesson that I have learned from him is: tie your rope to solid ground and make the leap.
by Dino Tadiar
Family photo, 1984
Sweep, sweep; we hear the kitchen tile floor being cleared. Pause. Clink, clunk, swoop and the refrigerator door closes. The pilot of the kitchen stove clicks until its flame comes on. Poof! The sound of one medium sized brown onion and two potatoes being chopped while the familiar cracking and whisking of eight eggs create the awakening rhythm to start the day.
My Dad begins his exercise routine with running in place as he waits for the boiling of the chopped French fry length potatoes to soften. His black leather slippers quietly are felt like a 1980s jazzercise routine. His second routine consists of squats with hands neatly relaxed on his head while waiting for the sizzling onion to sweeten and the jasmine rice to steam.
In one big pan, the hot vegetable oil creates the comforting smell of cooked potatoes and juicy onions while the bright sunny blend cements this ritual to bring the family together. These are our Sunday mornings as a family.
Putting down the cheese encrusted Nintendo remote, my younger brother, Arthur, runs in to see what’s cooking in the kitchen as my older sister, Tanya, sets the seven plates, forks and spoons. The sun shines through the blinds. My grandma and grandpa from my mother’s side are working in their small flower and vegetable garden in the backyard. It’s around eight thirty in the morning and my Dad places the rice cooker down on the faux wood rectangular table. The kitchen smells fresh and bright, as oranges and bananas are being peeled by my sister.
Mom is just coming home from her night shift and the garage door opens and she calls Arthur and me to help bring in our groceries that she got from the high school swapmeet on her way home. Dad waits for us by placing a plate on top of the omelet. I remember him telling us when we were little, to give Mom more love and honor than him.
Dad says, “it’s time to eat, call your Lolo and Lola.” We call Grandpa and Grandma as they confidently walk in step with each other. All seven of us are seated before the prepared food. Dad is at one end of the table and my Grandpa at the other stabilizing the structural buttress between our family’s past, present and future. My brother and I look at each other intently before I relent and say grace. It’s a simple breakfast.
The bottle of ketchup squirts on the mound of piping hot rice alongside the potato omelet. I remember these Sundays where we ate together, discussed the news and laughed at corny jokes that dad conducted. The feeling of these forty minutes were enough to inspire us children to do something each day; which perhaps planted a ripple effect on our time here on Earth. My Dad’s Charles Bronson like mustache smiled easily as he passes the omelet around. For Mom, she enjoys this time not worrying about breakfast because she cared for recovering patients at the Intensive Care Unit a few hours ago. Most people would recognize a mother’s care, self-sacrificing and warm; and a father’s love with protection and strength.
There is this role reversal that my Dad and Mom played, similar to households across the working United States. When Mom went off to night shift, Dad attended to our basics. When Dad went off to the regular 8-6, Mom cared for us children. If we went astray, she would tell us to wait until Dad comes home from work.
Our family unit, in an orchestrated chaotic balance; which pulls and pushes each other to do things, sculpt a thought process and reflect upon actions may in fact be the only institution I can say I will never truly graduate from. The judicial disciplinary anchor was and still is Dad. Even though my Dad passed away few years ago from Alzheimer’s disease; I collect my actions from time to time with his democratic way of disciplining. As what Dad was brought up with, he would say, “belt or the slipper?” and “how many do you deserve?” Even more importantly, he would define a line between a father and a son by saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.” The occasional spankings were not as memorable as the discourse he bestowed to us children. He would talk for hours about what we can improve on and deliver a convincing interrogation tactic that would make any right-handed person realize they were actually left-handed. Dad has a way with making us question our place and actions.
A half sip of milk left in Grandpa’s glass, a few orange slices and a fork stuck straight through three slices of bananas and we laugh at another Dad joke. It is now 9:15am and Grandma cares for the dishes while Mom tells us kids to put away the remaining food.
The rice bowl is now half full, waiting for it to be refrigerated for lunch. All of us look at the last piece of the omelet and knowing that Dad did not eat much, we look to him. With his strong sculpted hands he pushes the unfinished plate to my brother and I, we look at each other and eat the last of the remains. The small things that my Dad does really resonate full of love.
Sometimes flashbacks come from nowhere: Dad teaching us to pedal fervently to create enough momentum to stay afloat on the blacktop. His careful eyes that corrected our homework assignments after working on his own legal documents made us think twice of what hard work means. Also, telling us boys not to fool around putting through the seventh hole because there are other people waiting behind us. Sweat dripping from his brow waiting for our piano class to finish as he reads the paper in the Toyota minivan in the hot California sun. He listens cheerfully and concerned towards friends, family and strangers.
I hear stories from Uncles and Aunties, friends and the echoes of his story being resonated from a far; but close to our hearts. I’m used to saying Dad, but there is much more to his being. For the word “Dad” is a delicate simplicity of name play but with a complex point of reference for many who remember a creature much more than itself. There is patience within his realm and I see the equilibrium following suit in my life and if per chance I too were to become a Dad and own up to the responsibilities of one; may I be given mercy of a simple breakfast.
1 big pan for omelet and 1 pot of water to boil potatoes.
- 1 medium size brown onion
- 2 russet potatoes
- 8 grade AA eggs
- 1 dash of salt
- 1 pinch of ground black pepper
- 2 table spoons of vegetable oil
Step 1: scrub and clean the potatoes and begin boiling pot of water
Step 2: cut potatoes into thick french fry lengths, add to boiling water until soften (about 12 min.)
Step 3: cut onion in long thin slices
Step 4: hand beat eggs, 4 at a time
Step 5: drain pot of water, leaving potatoes and dry with towel
Step 6: prepare pan with vegetable oil, bring to medium heat and add onions to cook bring to a slight sizzle
Step 7: add cooked potatoes to the heated pan of onions and cover to moisten (about 1 min.)
Step 8: add eggs 4 at a time, using a spatula to turn over omelet occasionally
Step 9: add dash of salt and pepper, flipping over
Step 10: turn off stove, either serve on pan or plate
Serves: 5-7 persons
Celebrating father’s day in our kitchen 11 years ago.
Also at that same time acknowledging Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease as a family.
I Am Orlando Bloom’s Daughter
The first time I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a matinee because with a family of five, money, right? I was out with my husband and our three children and when Orlando Bloom crosses the screen, it knocks the wind out of me. “Oh! That looks just like my dad!,” I gasp.
“Cool, mom,” say my kids.
“No,” I say, “I mean it. It really does.” But they don’t get it. The next 27 times Orlando pops up on the screen, I say the same thing.
I say it every single time I see Orlando and finally my family threatens to get up and move twelve rows away from me.
But that doesn’t stop me.
“My dad. It’s my dad.” And when I say this, I’m really saying I miss him.
* * *
My father had skin the color of shiny copper and eyes that were green with flecks of yellow. When he smiled, he made me grin so wide it hurt.
Growing up, we had a radio in the kitchen, a beige plastic rectangle with gold colored dials. The station was set to AM radio, and The Beatles were always playing one of their Top 10 singles. I’d hear the music from whatever part of the house I was in and come running, ready to dance the Twist for my dad. He couldn’t hold back his joy at seeing me shake my five-year-old body back and forth while singing “oh he was just seventeeeeen!” Laughing out loud and clapping, he’d smile. I could see the double laugh lines on the left side of his cheek that would get so deep, they’d look like I drew them in with a magic marker.
My parents were from Colombia, South America, but coming to the United States didn’t stop them from having the parties they were used to. In our basement, the old records would be pulled out: Carlos Gardel was the favorite. My father, with a brown bottle of beer in his hand, and his always present cigarette perched on his lips, would slide his feet back and forth until he was in the middle of the cement floor and I would secretly watch, hidden around the corner of the basement steps. Seeing him, dancing with his eyes closed, lost in the music, made me want to blow my cover and run across that floor to him, my summer nightgown streaming behind me, more than anything else in the world.
My father didn’t have to talk. He would only wink at me, and I’d cover my mouth with both hands, to stop my explosion of giggles—my father knew, it doesn’t take a grand gesture or a lot of words to show love, it just takes a stand-still moment of time where it’s just you and that person, where that time is yours and no one else’s.
I was in love with my father, and I would wait all day for him to come home from work. With my forehead leaning with all my might against the front screen door so I could see as far out as possible, I would watch for him. There, in his grey work overalls, I’d spot him and burst through the front door like a horse from a gate; running down the steps not caring about shoes or temperature or rain. I’d shout Papi! and when he’d see me, those dimples of his would appear.
One day the mesh of the screen door popped out from the force of my body and my father had to replace it.
* * *
The memories of my father flood over me as I sit and try to watch Orlando sweep Keira away from all that endangers her. I’m trying to concentrate on the afternoon with my family, but I can’t stop missing my dad and my throat aches. I see him, his eyes closed, dancing in our basement with the palm of one hand softly on his stomach, the other held up in the air, swaying his shoulders side to side as “Adios Muchachos” plays on our stereo. I didn’t have him long enough; much too short for a little girl who adored him, anyway.
My father died when I had just begun first grade; a shocking suicide. His death so abrupt that no one could get me to stop looking out of our front screen door for him. The mesh popped out again, but no one replaced it.
I’m so far away, deep in my chair, thinking of my dad when my youngest son startles me, whispering too loud the way little boys do, “Hey, mom, the movie’s almost over and you haven’t mentioned how you’re Orlando’s daughter.” I laugh, and feel how my cheek curves up only on the left side. Just like his did.
All these Father’s Days later, I have never not thought of my dad and I how I miss him. And again, I’ll begin this Father’s Day, like I have all the other ones since, with my first words of the day being, Feliz Dia de los padres, Papi. Happy Father’s Day, Papi, I miss you.
The Parent Muga Is
by Erin Hart
“Just wait ’til your Dad gets home!”, that little phrase that could drop me to my knees in a matter of seconds and have me begging my mom to forgive my life’s transgressions without restraint. My Mom’s style of discipline involved some pattern of screaming, finger-waving, chasing, and door slamming. My mom is straight out of Turkey, with a full-on Mediterranean temper, but by no means is she the “Midnight Express”. No matter why or how the episode unfolded, it was almost always comical and never very threatening-especially once we were teenagers. My Dad on the other hand, had a very different method of punishment. Let me preface this with my Dad’s nickname—“Muga”. It was given to him in the glory days of high school football, where his Viking size frame was best known for “mugging” the competition. Thank God some time passed between his football and parenting careers. But if you had asked any of his three girls, we would have probably chosen medieval torture over a meeting with Dad. You would think he would have been too tired to “blow our minds” after a 12-hour day of rounds and patient appointments, but we were never so lucky. Where did he learn these Jedi mind tricks? We will never know, but we were no match. Sitting across the table from my Dad with my angry mother upstairs was never a good position to be in. He would always let me explain myself first, and at that point, I would have already realized that I had totally messed up. And if I had trouble reaching that conclusion, he was there to help. But he was always full of surprises. After a long chat one night, he got up from the table and yelled “Grab a wooden spoon!” loud enough for everyone in the house to hear. I was startled. We had ended our talk with resolution and a hug, so what had I missed? He had me stand in front of him and said “STICK OUT YOUR HAND!”, and then he quickly and quietly added, “Make it sound real, okay?” I caught his eye as he smacked the spoon on his own hand and I let out a very heartfelt scream. He was smart enough to keep two of the women in his house happy. Actually, he was constantly juggling the emotions of all four of his women—you could call him a saint. He would walk around the house, while we all screamed about nothing in particular, begging “I just want peace and quiet!”.
Receiving a gift from my dad is an emotional rollercoaster. One Christmas I desperately wanted a red bike. My dad took me to the store to pick one out, let me ride a few, and then took me home and said “We’ll see.” On Christmas day I was handed a very small box from my Dad. My pre-teen rage was barely enough for me to bear. When I opened the box and found a small red bike ornament inside, I lost my s***—worst Christmas ever. Why would anyone be so cruel? I was certain there was no love between us. When my dad sent me into the kitchen to get the orange juice ten minutes later, it was all I could do to keep my cool. “Call me Cinderella!” I wanted to scream as my little sister opened the rest of MY Christmas gifts and I trudged into the kitchen. Then that thing happened when you can’t breathe. There stood my red bike in all its full-sized glory. The shriek I unleashed must have sent a grin over my Dad’s face. That is my Dad in a nutshell. He is understated, sweet, and wickedly playful.
My Dad is the defender of Mom and separator of sisters. He taught me how to navigate the toughest of situations and emotions. And he would drive 12 hours with less than a few hours notice, to visit me at USC when I was upset. I have friends who live less than an hour from their parents and see them less than I do. It makes me sick to my stomach. Three times in my life I have had to visit my Dad in the hospital and I’m sure with his luck there are a few more hospital visits in my future. But I consider myself lucky. I realized at the young age of five that time with Dad is not guaranteed. Each memory we’ve made has been sweet and is treasured. From painting the boat and finding dead snakes at the marina, to crying together moments before walking down the aisle to meet my future husband, many of the best moments of my life took place with my Dad at my side. I hope one day to be half the parent that Muga is. I bet he says a little “Alleluia” to himself every day that his house is quiet. But I know a little piece of him misses all the drama and I know I would be more than a little tickled to hear “Just wait ‘til your Dad gets home!” just one more time.