Go Outside And See If I’m There

No matter how old we get, we still hear the words of our fathers in our heads. I can remember Dad’s sayings back to early childhood.

In the house I grew up in, I was always fearful of going into our basement alone, especially at night. With our toys and games stored there, I had to make the trip more often than I’d liked. Just as I would open the basement door and prepare to descend the stairs, my dad would say, “watch out for that guy down there!” Many times, I would just stay upstairs or whine “Daaaad!”.

I was a fearful child in general, scared of everything, which sometimes frustrated him. One of the things he would say to me was “go outside and see if I’m there.” Though I knew this was a joke, I would still mentally debate whether I should go outside and look or not. I didn’t.

He would often ask, “do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” This was supposed to be funny, but to this day I still don’t know what that means. I guess it’s so nonsensical that it’s a joke, but one I never really got. I heard it attributed to Bozo the clown who asked six-year-olds this question on his show. He probably heard it from his dad.

“It’s the same thing!” Except it wasn’t the same thing at all. These were words uttered by my father whenever I requested a brand-name product and received the generic equivalent. Back in middle school during the early seventies, Mickey Mouse wristwatches were all the rage. I requested one for Christmas, thinking it was straightforward and impossible to get wrong. When I saw my gift, I had no words. The watch face, mounted on a wide suede band, featured Mickey dressed in bell bottoms and sporting an afro. I wore it anyway since, what the hell, you had to admire the creativity.

He always said that nothing good happens after midnight. When my oldest was in high school, he attended a party and called to say “everyone” was going to spend the night and could he as well. My answer, of course, was “no” since I remembered my father’s words. My son replied, “I knew you would say that!” That was music to my ears. “Great! No need to call me then. See you at home.”

“It never costs anything to say hello.” The lesson was that we should say hello to everyone, regardless of their status. Dad was a plumbing foreman at a major university and some professors thought they were too important to acknowledge the tradesmen they encountered. It was great advice, but I disagree that it never costs anything. It could cost a bit of pride when my hello was ignored, but still worth the risk.

I’m grateful my father’s words continue to convict and amuse me. I only hope there is some wisdom and humor in my own, as they haunt the minds of my sons.

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