The Big Kid

Note: pen in collar

Note: pen in collar

When I get a call from the U.S. after 10 o’clock at night, my heart instantly starts palpitating. I am filled with questions and immediate worry. What’s happened? Is everyone OK?


My dad. “Hey Dame.”

“Everything OK?”

“Oh yeah.”

Now that we have ascertained that I am not getting bad news, I am wondering what’s on his mind. It’ll come soon, as the old man has never been known for employing the subtlest conversational segues.

“So, how was your day?” I ask.

“Pretty good. Hey, we’re going to Atlantic City when you’re home!”

There it is.

Tweak a few points about your dad and you probably have my dad. He falls right into those “dad categories.” He loves fishing and baseball, refers to “pants” as “slacks” and thinks Mötley Crüe is a skin condition. He has the fashion sense of a blind nihilist, he’s infuriatingly stubborn, and was the Supreme Court disciplinarian in the household. His religion is pens, and there are two perennially clipped into his shirt pocket or – if it has no pocket – his collar. I have never once seen him dance.

Just like you, my siblings and I knew my dad’s moods and cycles. When he came home late on weekday evenings we knew to keep our distance until his temperature had been gauged. Smiles could be deceptive, the calm before the hair-trigger tempered storm. Friday nights and Saturday mornings at the kitchen table and smoking and drinking coffee over a crossword puzzle were all clear. If baseball was on things were fine until the Phillies started losing. His Sunday afternoon game of Boggle typically drove the rest of us insane with the clatter and he was in heaven.

Like most other people, us kids take after the old man even in the things that drove (or drive) us crazy. We have our moods, tempers, our peeves, and obsessive worries. We’re stubborn, constantly have our noses buried in books, and love a good crossword puzzle. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of my house without a pen (and a back up pen = 2, which makes total sense now).

But really, when you come down to it, my dad is really just a big kid loafing around in the body of a continuously aging dentist. He enthusiastically plans vacations, loves Christmas, and he could lecture on the joys of food and books.

“It looked neat,” he will say about an impulsively bought sci-fi novel from Barnes & Noble’s website. “Also it has dinosaurs.” At the same time he takes reading quite seriously. I have never known anyone to put such deliberate thought into purchasing a book as a gift.

In world of things that my dad holds in high esteem, the only things that might be up there with pens and books are food and drink. A good meal can put my dad in a good mood for a week. It can also be the main topic of a late night phone call. “Dame, I gotta tell you about this roast beef sandwich I had today. Three kinds of horseradish! Oh man…”

It’s at Christmas when my dad is most kidlike. At my last Christmas at home, I was made to wait at the top of the steps before going to the tree. At 39 years old. Our gifts consist of books, pens, and practical bits and bots like socks and notebooks. If a gift is both clearly from him and an article of clothing, you will hold your breath and wait for the hideousness. Still, you will surely open an unexpected gift or two. “Those are the same binoculars that Amazon explorers use! There’s a humidity barometer on the right scope and a deworming kit in the left one.” “It’s a glow in the dark globe, I just thought it was neat. You hit that button and it becomes Pangaea.” “You put that little disc in your shoe and it plays calypso music whenever you take a step!”

As kidlike as he is at Christmas, it’s the same as when he researched vacations. We never knew what our next vacation was going to be until he told us casually one night in the end of the spring. Moreover, there was no way to guess. “We’re going to a dude ranch. We can ride horses there.” “I just thought it would be interesting to stay in a restored convent in Naples. Neat.” “Why Vermont? Well, in Vermont, they can go swimming and we can go fly fishing.”

His excitement for these things remains to this day and my dad spends hours gleefully looking into unique hotels, cool trips, and local oddities. A discussion on cities we want to visit in Sicily can encompass an hour-long phone call. A discourse on the difference between Irish and English pubs can be one whole afternoon and two follow-up emails. A conversation about which European country has the best cuisine can take four phone calls and a symposium day organized.

While we kids did get the temper and the pen fetish, we also got the excitement. We are devoted lovers of reading, and we can talk books and writing for hours. We are curious and enthusiastic travelers, with tastes for the odd and exotic. My sister loves India. My brother once booked a hotel room for us decorated with giant vaginas. We love giving gifts in my house and we will start teasing each other about Christmas gifts in September.

I guess you never know what you’re going to get from your parents, but you take the positive with the negative. If there’s one thing I am beyond happy to have gotten from the old man is the genuine excitement for life’s joys. The utter joy that comes from the fun parts and that make you feel like a big kid.

  1. #1 by greg galeone on June 23, 2015 - 3:20 am

    Thanks for that Damo. Enjoyed the read.

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