The landline rings, waking me from the first of my two (2) allotted naps of a Sunday. I normally wouldn’t pick up–it’s usually a local financial planner who drops the call as soon as he learns of my pathetic net worth–but it occurs to me as I wipe the sleepy-bugs from my eyes that it is Father’s Day, and so it must be my two sons, Scooter and Skipper, calling.
“Happy Father’s Day!” they exclaim together from two different far-away cities through the miracle of modern technology.
“Thanks,” I say, “but you know you didn’t have to. The only thing I want for Father’s Day . . .”
“We know, is that we never forget Mother’s Day.”
“Right,” I reply, quietly proud that they have learned an important lesson I’ve been trying to teach them since boyhood. “Your mother cares about phony-baloney holidays made up by the Greeting Card-Industrial Complex, I don’t.”
“Speaking of mom, how’s she doing?” Skipper asks.
“Not well, not well at all.”
“What’s the matter?” Scooter asks.
“Father’s Day is always a tremendous burden for her,” I say, and if we were “Skyping,” they would see me shake my head with affectionate but concerned resignation. “She wants me to be her Ken doll to dress up.”
“Who’s Ken?” Skipper asks.
“Barbie’s dweeby boyfriend.”
“What’s a dweeb?” Scooter asks. Even though we lived in a top school district, state-required Inclusiveness curriculum standards barred many of the popular epithets of my youth.
“Scoots, a dweeb is an inconsequential youth with delusions of grandeur. He’s the kind of kid who goes out for football but tells the coach he only wants to hold extra points. He hears your rock band practicing, knocks on the door, and offers to play tambourine.”
“So–the kind of guy who likes to suntan in the bright light of reflected glory?” Skipper offers.
“Exactly,” I say. “Anyway, Ken was a good-looking guy doll who never seemed to have a job, while Barbie was running around being a stewardess, nurse, MBA. She was a one-woman Department of Labor quarterly jobs report.”
“So . . . you didn’t let mom buy you any clothes this year?” Scooter asks.
“Nope. I finally drew the line. If she had her way, I’d look like one of those dorks in a department store Father’s Day ad. Holding a football in the middle of the summer, tousling my kids’ hair while I dandled them on my knees.”
“So what are you guys going to do today?” Skipper asks.
“I thought I’d annoy her by pretending to know something about ballet.”
“Dad!” they say together, but I cut them off.
“What’s the point of having a day for fathers if fathers can’t have a little malicious fun?”
“Go easy on her, okay?” Scoots says.
“I will, but she’s just such an attractive target. I do everything I can to make Father’s Day about mom. We watched a self-important documentary about an obscure ballet company last night–I couldn’t help myself.”
“You didn’t throw around a bunch of technical philosophical terms, did you?”
“Sure I did. I asked her whether she’d say the work was ‘programmatic.’”
“What’s that mean?”
There was silence at the end of the line, then Scooter spoke. “What’s that mean?”
“Are the dancers trying to depict something, like in Swan Lake, or are they just expressing depressing emotions by flailing their arms and scurrying around the stage for no apparent reason. That’s called ‘modern’ dance.”
“Well, which was it?” Skipper asked.
“The latter, unfortunately. It’s so much easier to mock the former, at least you know what you’re dealing with.”
“Why do you do that to her?” Scooter asked, and I detected a note of disappointment in his voice.
“Scoots, you have to remember–when I was eighteen years old, studying dance notation in Aesthetics class in college, mom was ten years old.”
“Mom was in college when she was ten?”
“No she was in fourth grade, I was in college.”
“You dated a fourth grader in college?”
“No, silly. We didn’t meet until much later, when age differences didn’t matter so much.”
“Anyway, I do everything I can to share her interests in a totally obnoxious way, and I hope you two will do the same when you get married.”
There was silence at the ends of the line as my boys–both standing on the verge of adulthood, ready to make the leap of faith into marriage–let the wisdom of my remarks sink in.
“So that’s the secret to a happy marriage?” Scooter finally asked.
“Well, that and never forgetting Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day and her birthday and your anniversary and Christmas and if she’s a Catholic her patron saint’s name day.”