Dad, doing the whole "getting older" thing
Dad Now, with Langdon as a puppy, circa 2004.
Today is my dad's god-knows-what birthday (somewhere in his late 50s), so I thought that I'd write a little "through my eyes" tribute (I did the same thing with my mom a few months ago).
My dad is quite a character - almost 100% oblivious to pop culture (he once asked me "who this 'Angelina' character was"), he speaks thoughtfully, methodically, in an organized and disciplined fashion. On birthdays and holidays like Thanksgiving he likes to ask big, important questions, such as "What have you learned this year, Julia?" except it comes out sounding more like: "So. DRAMATIC PAUSE. What. have. you. LEARNED. this. year. Julia?" And he expects you to have a SERIOUS and THOUGHTFUL answer to that question, with statistics, facts, and exhibits charting your progress, intellectually, academically, financially and spiritually.
He doesn't just believe in the Protestant work ethic - he IS the Protestant work ethic. Vacations and sports have no appeal to him - in fact, they don't even exist as possibilities, although he's a huge fan of jogging on the beach and weekend couch naps. When I first moved to New York and started going to the Hamptons with my then-boyfriend, he grew increasingly concerned that I was acting "like a hedonist." "Well," I asked him, "What should I be doing on the weekends?" His answer: "Working, running errands, vacuuming, grocery shopping, maybe doing some laundry." As if that were perfectly reasonable. Sigh.
He's infamous in our family for his extreme thrift (cough cough, cheapness), but he's never carried a credit card balance and always paid for his cars in cash (which he then keeps for 15 years). He would probably still be wearing suits from the 70s if he weren't sartorially saved by a combination of my mom goading him to actually spend some money already and then taking his credit card and doing it for him, and my 84-year-old grandmother obsessively buying him shirts and socks. To this day.
He lives with my mother in the same Chicago suburb he grew up in, barely two miles from the high school he (and my brother and I) all attended. Every Sunday, I get a voicemail from him, with a description of his usually brain-numbing weekends ("Your mother and I took the dog for a nice walk. And after that we went to a kitchen sink expo. Then we attended a town hall meeting!") It's all very Garrison Keillor sweet, really. Dad loves to run 5ks, but I'm fairly sure it's just to get the free tee-shirts. He subscribes to Word-of-the-Day, and will frequently forward them on, with horrible puns attached. He adores New Yorker cartoons, and mails out the ones he deems relevant, with the printed names crossed out and yours written in. When my brother and I were younger, in order to receive our allowances, we had to submit Excel spreadsheets updated quarterly with our budgetary goals.
Conservative (but ostensibly a Rockefeller Republican), he inexplicably voted for Bush twice in a row. The family's still mad at him for it, and further peeved that he never made use of being in the same law school class as the Clintons. Truly a tragedy. My father does not fear cancer or drunk driving accidents or nuclear holocaust or muggers toting glocks - my father fears LIABILITY. My brother and I were lectured on the issue at least twice a month for years.
He is one of, if not the, most ethical human beings I know. Still, he does not "believe" in waiting on hold or in lines. Also, he is a terrible driver.
Despite the very lawyer-ly facade of "serious," Dad actually has a fairly well-developed, albeit at times painfully corny, sense of humor. An insanely loyal Princeton alum, he can rattle off every classmate, their profession, their kids, and their kids' professions, within a 2000 mile radius, all while singing the fight song and wearing one of his innumerable little black & orange Tiger printed vestments.
He is gregarious, a consummate networker, and one of the best public speakers I have EVER seen. It was always his intention to run for public office - he thought very seriously about joining the Illinois senatorial race back in 2003 (um, you know, the one some guy named Barack Obama won?), but my mom said "oh, HELL no!" and threatened him with divorce. He made the right choice, a political life is no life at all. Still, he's so good at distilling large & complex ideas that I've always encouraged him to be a law school professor ("doesn't make enough money!"). Oh well. For now, I suppose, his lectures will stay confined to my brother and me.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you!
Dad Then, circa 1979.