Growing up, when my father would drive my sister and me to school, we’d spend the first few moments in silence. I’d gaze out the window thinking about important high-school matters, like boys, and he’d turn the radio to his classic rock station of choice. Without fail—once the chorus of the song hit—my father’s soft hum would turn into a slew of coos and yelps. Whatever poetic phrases made up the lyrics were merciless against “Lou Originals”— odes where my father would interchange the word "you" with his own name. "Ahhhh... Lord, I miss Lou....mmmmmhmmm."
Our car rides always finished in hysteria – my sister and I holding our stomachs and trying to catch our breath after laughing uncontrollably for the past three minutes, and my father proudly smirking at his performance.
Lyrics are not the only thing my father ad-libs. For as long as I can remember, he has been making up words and ludicrous household rules including "Daddy Tax" — a "law" that gave my father the right to take any portion of my meal that he so desired. When he was not tyrannically taking my Pop Tarts at breakfast, you could find him free-styling puns at the local bar and —to my teenage mind's complete mortification— doing his best Boy George (circa Culture Club 1982) impression at wedding receptions.
My family and I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand the inner workings of my father. It's as if his mind rolls on a perpetual hamster wheel, sucking in random thoughts from corners of his brain.
My father truly lives in a world all of his own. And yet, despite the language barrier, I actually "get" my dad in a lot of ways.
In my teen years, I often exhibited the typical symptoms of indecisiveness and and sarcasm. On one particular occasion, my mother yelled at me, "You're just like your father!" and stormed away. She had her own reasons to be upset, but she was right.
Among his many gifts, my father blessed me with his blond hair and forever case of FOMO, which was a condition he was inflicted with long before "fear of missing out" became an acronym. He also gave me an unbreakable sense of independence and adventure. Together, we are always running five minutes later, aimlessly wandering down city streets or striking up a conversation with strangers at the local bar.
Now, there's many things we don't see eye-to-eye on. We disagree on things like politics, my vegetarian lifestyle and the very important and longstanding debate of russet versus sweet potatoes. But when it comes to my dad's outlook on life, I will always admire and carry with me his open and child-like approach.
My father has always viewed the world as a playground. He has never taken anything too seriously — choosing instead to fill each moment with laughter, joy and awe.
I spent my entire upbringing happily observing my father and following in suit as he wiled away hours cultivating sea-monkey and ant farms, tore through the Sunday paper to get to the cartoons or simply sat on the front porch to catch a thunderstorm. Even in the most mundane of moments (a 5-hour car ride back to Upstate New York to drop me off at college) and challenging of times (my senior year of high school when I thought Physics would be a great idea), my father always brought a contagious sense of enthusiasm for life and the moment. Unlike me, he never views traffic jams or even quantum mechanics as a daunting problem that needs to be resolved. Instead, my father has always wholeheartedly embraced the mysteries and unpredictability of this world as a beautiful part of existence. He has always encouraged my sister and I to expand our horizons, try everything once and to always find a reason to laugh.
However, beneath my dad's happy-go-lucky personality is a massive nostalgic. He borders the verge of tears each time he drops me off at the Boston bus station, and even weeps with joy when he catches my sister and me in a bout of laughter at 2 a.m. On my graduation day, just before I took my last look at Ithaca College, my dad began to cry when I hugged him. "I'm not crying...It's just really windy," he choked through his tears.
"You know, all we want is for you to be happy," my father says to me often. He doesn't get into the details. He doesn't have to. The bottom line is all that matters.
I know I am extraordinarily lucky to have the kind of dad I do. My whole life, I knew he would be there for me. He told me I was beautiful and he hugged me a lot. He encouraged me to be courageous and confident. He protected me. Not everyone is so lucky.
We love to joke about my dad's peculiar quirks. But sometimes I wonder if he's the one that's really got it all figured out. Since the day we were born, he's been rationing these bits of advice. Did he know what he was doing all along?
I imagine my dad will go on mystifying us for the rest of his life, which I'm OK with. I wouldn't know what to make of him otherwise. And if in 23 years, I'm telling the next generation how to not to get kicked out of a Dave Matthew concert, then I'm OK with that too.
Happy Father's Day, dad! You're the best.