Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Fathers' Day Festival of Fun

It's an eternal question, asked year after year as a certain day approaches.
"What do you want to do?"
In 99.9 percent of cases, the answer is exactly the same:
Of course, that's the kind of answer that's totally unacceptable to the one asking, and so the challenge continues:
What are you gonna do with dad?
Ahhh, Father's Day.
I know I've accused the card, flower and candy companies of inventing some of the holidays we celebrate, but I'm not sure who came up with Fathers' Day, as dads seldom receive either roses or Fanny May chocolates. What's more, the selection of flowery Dad's Day greeting cards is much smaller than the glorious assortment that's rightfully available for moms, as well.
Even my own dad, who was the ultimate good sport about most of the loving trifles inflicted on him by his children, seemed kind of lukewarm about a holiday that required him to give up his only day off so he could fete, feed and otherwise entertain us in a celebration of his own fatherhood and the bright, wonderful children he had sired.
Or at least that's how we saw it.
"Don't take the chicken," he'd mutter while watching us gleefully cherrypick our way through an overpriced buffet meal. "Eat the roast beef," he'd add, while mentally comparing the price of poultry versus that of prime beef.
Like dad, my own requests for a peaceful Fathers' Day have been blithely ignored most years. Back when our sons were young, my own spouse was a ringleader, er, organizer of a jolly group celebration that included an early morning golf outing for the dads, followed by a largish, multi-family picnic at the Lake Calhoun pool.
This all sounds pretty wholesome and innocent I suppose, until you consider the danger that lurked in those waters--Our children, sitting poolside like a troop of evil water-monkeys, waiting for their dear old dads.
I've observed over the years that a child who is normally perfectly well behaved, will have no compunction about wielding a crowbar, for instance, when playing with his dad in a swimming pool. My own sons devised a them-versus-me game called "Enemy Skin Diver" that might as well been named "Let's beat dad to death before we drown him" that they still reminisce about from time to time.
I used to wonder what a team of medical examiners would have made of my sodden corpse after a day of Fathers' Day fun.
ME 1: "Multiple bruising and contusions over the head and entire body."
ME 2: "Stomach contents include fried chicken and at least 12 pounds of potato salad."
ME 1: "Are those bite marks?"
It was all in good fun, though, plus I've now had the pleasure of seeing Colin and Patrick both subjected to the same kind of water-based abuse at the hands of their own kids, while grandpa remains untouchable due to perceived old age and decrepitude.
My wife and I agreed long ago that I am not her father, nor is she my mother, so we've mostly left those holidays alone since we became empty nesters. But since we were living near son Patrick and family when dads' day hit this year, I was plunged headlong into a whirling vortex of father-directed fun.
"It's gonna be a veritable Fathers' Day Festival," laughed my spouse in answer to my cautious inquiries.
And it was, kind of, starting with Friday night, when our desperate search for fun took us to "Alligator Alley," a miniature golf and ice cream joint not far from our place.
Now, normally, I avoid miniature golf courses, go-kart tracks, video arcades and other money pits like the plague, but grandson Cyrus had spotted it when it first opened for the season and had received my assurance that we would go someday. I realized we were in the right kind of place when we were cheerily greeted by a pair of Carolina ladies when we walked in.
"Y'all here for ice cream or golf?" asked one.
Golf first, then ice cream, was my replay.
"You'll need to step outside and go to the window by the course," said the blonde lady on the left. "They'll be happy to take care of you there."
I waved my family outside, then followed while fumbling for my wallet (some things haven't changed since my dad's day...I was paying.) I walked to the window, where I was greeted by the same smiling blonde lady.
I looked. She laughed.
"I think I met your sister inside," I finally said.
"A lot of people say that," she replied.
We had fun playing the homemade 18-hole layout, and did some serious damage in the ice cream parlor afterwards.
"Is this it?" I said to my wife.
"Is this what?"
"Are we done celebrating Fathers' Day?"
"Heck no," she dimpled. "It's gonna be an entire weekend of Fathers' Day fun."
And it was.
Saturday included a morning kayak trip with the grandsons, followed by an afternoon on the beach and steaks on the grill, while Sunday's highlights included church, more beach time and a daring kids-included visit to the fancy-schmancy Italian restaurant where daughter-in-law Susan works.
But for me, the celebration peaked early on Fathers' Day morning.
I was working my way through my first cup of coffee when our three-year-old grandson, John, came padding downstairs.
"Hey buddy," I said. "You ready for some breakfast?"
I upped the offer to include juice, a story and a quick walk to the beach.
No. No. No.
"So, what do you want to do?" I asked.
"Feed the birds," was his reply.
Both young grandsons have learned to enjoy our almost-daily tradition of sharing stale and leftover bread and other edibles with our neighboring birds and wildlife. For the boys, part of the fun has been seeing how far they can chuck each dried-out bread crust off the deck overlooking the intercoastal inlet that creeps to the edge of our backyard. A quick survey of the bread drawer revealed no bird-worthy stale loaves, so I snuck a few fresh saltines, figuring that neither the birds nor John would tell.
He threw the crackers as I sat and admired each mighty toss.
And as I did, I thought these things:
Happy Fathers' Day to my dad and every dad I know.
Happy Fathers' Day to me.

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