15 June 2008

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.

When I was in high school, my father used to joke about how his fantasy daughter would dress. She would wear wool skirts, knee socks and (I think) cardigan sweaters. I can't quite remember if penny loafers were part of this.* Unfortunately, the teenage daughter he ended up with favored Levi 501s with flannel shirts over T-shirts that said, "Swimming suits me."

On the surface, we seemed to be opposites: his academic interests were in science and math, and his strengths were in all subjects; my interests and strengths were in English and history. He was third in his class of over 700 (that nameless position, which our family coined "goobetorian" just for him); I was somewhere in the middle with a pretty solid B+ average that could have been much better had I worked harder. He was gregarious; I was shy.

As we both get older, I realize that he may have given me more than I noticed as a teenager and that ultimately, we are more similar than not.

When I say something that makes my students laugh, or when they make me laugh, I see my dad's sense of humor. Because of him, I can appreciate the broad, the ironic, and the just plain silly, and I'm grateful for the time we spent watching Monty Python and Laugh-In, even when I didn't get all the jokes.

When my son or daughter protests about my paying for something and I tell them that "it's all the same money," I hear my father telling me that as he pays for our plane fare to visit or refuses a contribution toward a restaurant bill.

When I imagine a life beyond my job, I see my dad learning to paint, learning to ski, learning to play banjo, remodeling an old Victorian house, an Adirondack camp, figuring out how to build a backyard skating rink, a deck, a pergola, a dock. I see him sitting on a boat with a book in his hand, walking to the post office. I see him enjoying the people around him, offering help, friendship.

As I learn, slowly, how to handle life's surprises, I see my father appreciating the ironic, the absurd, the difficult, and handling them without anger, dismay or despair.

I actually have a picture of myself wearing a plaid wool skirt, knee socks, penny loafers and a sweater. It doesn't really look like me. Somehow, Dad always made me feel he appreciated me despite our seeming differences--no small feat when the daughter of a science teacher had trouble passing her Chemistry Regents with a 65.

*My father has since pointed out that the preferred shoes were saddle shoes, not penny loafers (16 June 2008).

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