By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
It’s a great thing to be able to reach an understanding in life where you can brag about your parents. For children everywhere, I’d like to offer some advice to fathers courtesy of my own childhood.
As a southerner, we have to get one thing straight, it’s OK to call him “Daddy.” Northern friends have always looked at me sideways when they hear that, probably doubting my maturity, but I prefer to think of it as a Southern thing. He can also answer to Dad, Daddio and a whiningly drawn out, Daaaaaad.
Dads should be men of accomplishment and brilliance. My father, after all, had the foresight to marry my Mom and give me a big sister and three older brothers. Our dad was tough and gentle, strict and loving, and always packed a fully loaded sense of humor.
Dads always need to have answers not necessarily the right ones, but creative answers nonetheless.
“Daddy, where’s Mom?” one of us would ask.
“She went out to feed the pigs and the hogs ate her,” he’d deadpan. It was an answer that evoked a variety of emotions: a nanosecond of controlled panic, wonder, and that final surrender to the knowledge of his truly off-the-wall wit followed by that extended whine, “Daaaaaad, come on!”
Fathers should drive their kids crazy. “Daddy how far is Stuckey’s?” one of us would shout from the back of the station wagon. “Just over the next hill,” he’d quip. We never did get to the bottom of the hill for one of those famous pecan logs.
Dads should tell great stories. I was probably 10 years old before I realized that he didn’t get me from a leprechaun. My sister thought that the three bears, red riding hood and the three little pigs were all in one story. They were.
Daughters are always Daddy’s Little Girl, no matter what their age or size. Dads should also teach their daughters how to dance by letting them stand on their feet and waltz. This activity, however, does not make the transition into adulthood. Ouch!
Fathers should teach their children about numbers. It was apparent early on that my talents revolved around writing stories or coloring within the lines, and not in applied math skills. As a 4-year-old, I thought two o’clock was a mighty big number. Thus, to answer the age-old fatherly question of “how much do you love me,” I would respond “two o’clock,” of course.
Fathers should teach children fiscal responsibility. In one quick and easy lesson, Daddy taught my brothers not to make change in the collection basket.
Dads should always keep kids on their toes. Our Dad still does this by absently whistling “Mack the Knife.”
Dads should impart nuggets of wisdom pertaining to their chosen careers or avocations at every opportunity. My siblings and I learned about emergency room procedures at the dinner table, usually by comparing a surgical process, illness or infliction to something on our dinner table. Regardless, we always cleaned our plates.
Fathers should give unlimited hugs. All children and grandchildren in our family have exceptionally sturdy torsos a result of years of bone-crushing embraces from a father who hadn’t seen his kids all day.
If they don’t have enough kids, Dads should make some up. “Marvin and Bruce” were regular characters in our house. None of us ever saw them, but they were responsible for leaving wet towels on the floor, not putting dishes in the sink, and messing up our rooms.
Dads should eat low-fat diets to keep their hearts strong. We regularly tested Daddy’s ticker and provided it with plenty of exercise we wrecked cars, crashed motorcycles, racked up speeding tickets, got hit by trucks, and required hundreds of stitches and a fair share of emergency medical attention. All this in a loving home.
The measuring stick for a good father is someone who is truly with his children when he is there.
Sure, sometimes, as teen-agers, for a fleeting moment, kids wish he wasn’t there. We had to suffer through the Herb Alpert and Neil Diamond 8-tracks in the station wagon on vacation, the way he danced like Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies when he wanted to make us laugh, found uses for old things when we wanted new, or walked up to strangers and interrogated them like he had known them all his life. But, the memories of our family, secure in the knowledge that our Dad was there for us and would always to do what he believed was right, was ever present.
As adults, children get to appreciate the good things that their Dads do, even when they are so very human.
Finally, Dads should be someone you can respect. It’s not easy being a father, but there sure are a lot of them out there just doing their best.
If you need any more advice, just ask your dad, he’ll tell you.
Deirdre C. Mays is photojournalist for The Miscellany.