Fathers and sons, they learn to make allowances.
Not when it might have mattered most. No, not then. Not in those
why-donít-you-get-a-haircut days, those get-the-hell-off-my-back days.
Freud was onto something with that Oedipal stuff. Fathers and sons do
compete, they scrap like junkyard dogs, over the one thing fathers never
have enough of and sons nothing but: time.
Fathers hear the tick-tock, tick-tock something awful, responsibility and
obligation sit heavy on their shoulders, whispering to them like dark angels
to hurry, hurry, always to hurry.
Sons piss their days away like theyíre pitching pennies, thereís always
tomorrow, next week, next year to make good, thereís never any point to
doing something today when maybe you can slide by and never do it at all.
But in the end, fathers and sons, they learn to make allowances, to clear an
uneasy space where they can rub shoulders without going for each othersí
It works like this.
One day, you realize, youíre smoking the old manís brand and drinking his
highball because it never occurred to you to smoke or drink anything else.
Youíve got a taste for steak tartare and oysters Rockefeller because thatís
what he liked when he was eating fancy. You shelve your books exactly flush
and square the stuff on your desk just so because you hate oblique angles
even more than he did. Somewhere along the line you stopped calling him
Dad and started calling him Pa because thatís what he called
his father. That panhandler on Michigan Ave., you find yourself slipping
him a 10-spot because you canít count the number of times you saw your old
man to the same thing. That sailor on the bar stool next to you, youíre
buying his next round because the old man wouldíve gone a month without
booze before heíd let a serviceman go thirsty.
Then one day, out of the corner of your eye, you see yourself in a mirror,
only itís not you, itís him, the same goofy smile, the same double-chin, the
same odd way he had of rubbing the top of his head when he was thinking.
And the brutal truth 2x4s you upside the head: youíre him, you are
your own father.
Didnít see that coming, really got to laugh.
Now you hear the tick-tock, tick-tock, sounds like Big Ben tolling
midnight in your brain. Youíre half a century old, youíve got the stroke
gene in your blood like he did and his father before him, and now his
wisdom is yours: it all just slips through your fingers, the years like
months, the days like hours, all of your plans like fever-dreams.
And you want to tell him, I know, Pa, now I know, I get it.
Remember him now.
How he crammed himself into that tiny kidís bed of yours and tried to sleep
all contorted, when you dreamed you were being chased by monsters on
How, on the day you got chicken pox, he came home from work with a stack of
DC and Marvel comics two inches thick and 50 packs of Topps football cards.
How, when you got it into your pointy head to be an oil painter, a model
railroader, a golfer, he set you up and then didnít say a word when you lost
interest or failed miserably.
How, after deciding to chuck a career youíd spent 10 years educating
yourself for, he told you to come home, make yourself comfortable, take as
much time as you needed to figure out your next move.
How he introduced you to the Hardy Boys, the Bowery Boys, the Blues harp,
Tom Lehrer, eight-ball, Bourbon Street, Vienna sausages, Audie Murphy,
poker, muskie fishing, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and
How he taught you the way to clean a basement.
The way to shake a manís hand.
The way to love a wife.
And you wish youíd written this not today but a year ago when he might yet
have read it.