"Hey Pal!" "Hey Daddy-o!" That was our greeting. My father was a sunny, funny, loveable man. When he was sober. But that's another story. I loved Daddy, and although he has been gone now for 15 years, I still love him. He taught me so many things I do every day, and I still hear his voice clear as a bell: "Son, do your job and half of someone else's. Make yourself indispensable." "Son, don't piddle around, don't dilly-dally-- we gotta get the job done now." "Son, you ready to try out that new restaurant on the other side of town? Ready for an eatin' experience of our knife and fork club?"
"Son, I'm proud of you---love ya, pal."
Those were his last words to me. "I'm proud of you. I love you." If I ever forget everything else he ever taught me, those are the most valuable things to remember. Always leave your loved ones knowing that you love them.
But I also learned so much else from him. Daddy taught me:
--to love cartoons. On Saturday mornings we would sit together in his big easy chair and watch "Tom and Jerry." "Huckleberry Hound Dog," or "Ricochet Rabbit." Of course, our all-time favorite was Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. The best part of it all was this: We all knew what would happen next, but Daddy would still laugh so hard, his face would turn beet red--- almost purple. And we would laugh just as hard mainly because Daddy's laugh was infectious. When he laughed, the whole world laughed, you know.
--how to dress. "Son, watch how Arnold Palmer dresses (Daddy was an avid student of the game of golf. I still think it is an incredible bore, but I figured I could learn something if he thought it was important.) Arnold Palmer always wears things that are in style. Khaki pants, golf shirts, oxford cloth shirts---you can never go wrong. Don't go for fads. Go for the classic look. For dress shoes--- wear only Johnston and Murphy or Alan Edmonds." And Daddy showed me how to polish and care for dress shoes, how to tie a tie (I liked his way of doing a "four in the hand" knot the best). He warned me against wearing double-breasted suit coats or blazers (they come and go in fashion and "when you unbutton them, son, there's no way you can look good.") Yes, Daddy. He was the king of fashion, after all.
--along with fashion tips, Daddy showed me how to iron dress pants and dress shirts. The right way, of course. (Daddy had a dry cleaning business.) I've sent my dress shirts to the cleaners to be startched and ironed only three times in my whole life.
--how to shake a man's hand. "None of that dead fish/sissy stuff, son. Here, pal, shake my hand. Now grip it like you mean it. Yeah, that's a SEARS handshake (Daddy had been a Sears store manager for 20 years)." A SEARS handshake was something with the force of a wrestler's submission hold. If you broke their knuckles you were doing good. Just not so hard on the ladies.
--how to smoke a cigar. I finally gave up this habit when I was 8. Yes, I smoked cigars with my father from the time I could remember until I was in about the second grade. No kidding. The two of us thought it was hilarious. We would sit in a car and at a stop sign he'd pass it off to me and I would take a few puffs and laugh myself silly. People at the light would look down into the car and see some kid with a cigar. They were horrified, we were laughing, and then we'd just peel out. Daddy and Jeff-- hellions from the get-go.
--how to throw a football, how to burp, how to tickle small children (Daddy pretended i was a banjo and he would play the banjo on my stomach), how to watch birds (we spent many, many hours looking for birds--- especially the rare pileated woodpecker or the indigo bunting), how to change the oil in the car, how to drive a stick shift, and naturally. . .how to enjoy one's self "experimenting" in the kitchen making new kinds of spaghetti sauce or chili (Daddy would pour a can of Old Milwaukee beer in both "brews") or how to de-bone chicken or make biscuits or corn bread or turnip greens or pole beans or. . . .
Daddy loved life. He was a good Daddy.
He taught me a lot.
I miss him.