Bruce Banner has arrived just in time to remind all dads of the dangers of high blood pressure. When seen last, Banner was going into a self-imposed exile at the end of Ang Lee’s version of The Hulk-- a movie that tanked like Patton’s reputation after he slapped one of his soldiers in an attempt to instill a little fatherly discipline. Like Banner and Patton, our tempers sometimes get the best of us, but we should try to see our kids’ exploits through a lens that also captures our own childhoods and our own misadventures.
For example, my brothers and I found it excessively harsh (and incredibly Hulk-ish) for our father to yell at us for dragging the hose from his air compressor into the deep end of our swimming pool, where he found us one afternoon eight feet under, ballasted by rocks in our pockets, trading hits of greasy air as we grinned at each other and congratulated ourselves for thinking up such a clever diversion from the mundane activity of actually swimming in a swimming pool. We also failed to realize that floating face-down and completely still in an attempt to set the record of Longest Submerged Brother Without Compressed Air might be unsettling to our parents, should they happen to glance out the window. Who knew they wouldn’t prod “the floater” at least a few times before dialing 911?
Had our father shared with us the rich legacy of his own youth, his tirades would have been easier to endure. For example, when we later learned that he had once fabricated his own diving gear from surplus army equipment (which he strapped to his little sister Jeannie along with several of our grandpa’s tools for ballast) and that Grandpa Stan’s tools were jettisoned by our aunt into the silt of San Diego Bay during her emergency ascent, we all immediately bonded with our dad in the commonality of stupid children everywhere who’ve managed to survive despite their best efforts-- or in our aunt’s case, her brother’s best efforts. Instead of Hulking out, or going Patton-esque, we should resolve to share with our kids the things we did in our youths that were similarly foolish.
I really shouldn’t have yelled at Alexander when he hacked down the wrong tree after we told him to go out and remove the one tree his mother and I had complained about ever since we moved into this house. Instead, I should have nostalgically shared with him the time my dad told me to remove a bottlebrush tree-- which is really a large shrub that is very attractive to bees. My solution was to devise a means of remote tree/shrubbery removal: I found that by tying it to the bumper of our truck, I was able to yank it out quite efficiently, along with the newly installed gas line for our swimming pool’s heater. (My mom hated that pool, now that I think about it).
When Dave and his crazy friend Dan used to get together after school and run around our house like madmen and Dave once accidentally punched his fists (followed by his wrists) right through the glass of our French door without a scratch, and somehow survived that day despite the fact that I was quite willing to kill them both, I should have told them instead about the time my brothers and I were rough-housing and John’s head somehow impacted with the corner of our coffee table. John touched his scalp and brought his hand away bloody, crying hysterically that there was a hole in his head. I knew right away from my first aid training in Boy Scouts that John was in shock, and that while in that state, he would be highly susceptible to suggestions like “I can stop the bleeding if you promise not to tell mom and dad.”
When Christa once choreographed a dance routine that involved swinging from the heating pipes in our basement instead of going ballistic I should have told her about the time my brothers and I “chimney-climbed” the space above our stairwell. (Mom always wondered about those smudges fourteen feet above the landing, and just how they got there- Spiderpig, perhaps?).
So, on this Father’s Day, to my dad:
Grandpa Stan grudgingly allowed you to live when you used his electric razor to shave the nubs from your blue suede shoes after you painted them white, since only white shoes (patent leather or, apparently, Sherwin Williams Suede) were permissible for your high school marching band. Grandpa should have chilled out and congratulated you for your initiative and your imagination, bought himself a new electric razor and then pressed you into a summer of servitude to pay for it, just like you always did with us. Come to think of it, we spent many a summer of servitude under your command, and many times without justification! That’s one family tradition that has gone by the wayside here; Chicago summers are just too hot and we only have a few trees left since Alex went away to college.
If you are wondering where I got the stories of some of your escapades, all I can say is that while tools sink, the truth always floats to the surface like an oxygen-starved little sister, and our family motto still rings true: 'Fac illum, et tracte eventis'. (Do it, and deal with the consequences later).