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The secret lives of fathers l Chuck’s World


Last updated 6/13/2018 at Noon

There are things some people do that I can’t relate to, and this is tricky territory. I run the risk of unintentionally offending complete strangers, and alienating friends and family. You wouldn’t think writing a column like this would be so dangerous.

I could tell you stories.

What I’m talking about is affection for the artifacts of my childhood. I had a happy time growing up, and I have lots of affection for that. I have pleasant memories of childhood, including the things I enjoyed doing as a child.

I’m just not particularly interested in reliving any of this. I’ve never been a collector of anything other than USB cables, for one thing. I don’t have baseball cards or pristine lunch boxes from my childhood to polish and admire, although other people certainly do.

I definitely read my share of comic books, for another example, but I must have stopped when I was around 12 years old, and I’ve yet to find a reason to start up again.

But we all know there are people in their 60s and older who flock to Comic Con-like events, some of them wearing elaborate costumes (I’d like to go to one of these someday with a red bath towel under my shirt, clipped with a clothespin, which was elaborate enough when I was 4 years old). This is curious to me, but not incomprehensible.

I understand passion, even if I don’t share it.

I can’t pass judgment, in other words, and I’m not inclined to do so anyway. I appreciate the tugs of nostalgia – the sound of an ice cream truck, say, or the little shrine to Adam West on my bookshelf (don’t even start). I get it.

I think this explains my apathy when it comes to the deluge of superhero movies over the past decade or so. Look, I understand the appeal. I watched Christopher Reeve put on the tights and cape when I was 20, and I was pretty thrilled.

The same thing happened a decade later, when Tim Burton put his spin on Batman; I got a few chills, and Adam West temporarily slipped into second place.

But there’ve been so many, and passion isn’t there. I can appreciate the special effects, and the occasional performance that breaks free from the goofiness of the premise, but I have trouble getting enthused. I’m not really sure who the Avengers are, for one thing.

For another? I knew a superhero once.

One day, years ago, back when I still had a basketball hoop in my driveway, I challenged my father. I handed him the ball, standing a good 60 feet from the hoop, and asked him to give it a shot. I was just fooling around, and I didn’t expect him to sink one. I just thought it would be fun, and he smiled weakly at me and shook his head.

“I can’t,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, the distance too far, and he was right, of course. I just remember it, because at the age of 40 or so, it was the first time I realized there might be something my father couldn’t do.

It’s been 15 years since I had a reason to note Father’s Day, other than to nod at whatever acknowledgement comes this way from my kids. I don’t have a father anymore.

My dad died in 2003 from lung cancer, what felt like an inevitable end to a lifetime of smoking more cigarettes than anyone else I’ve ever known. It’s impossible to picture him without a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, even when he was working.

And he worked all the time, maintaining an ethic that lasted as long as he did. Weekends were as busy as the workweek, with a list of chores hanging on the refrigerator in his neat handwriting, crossed off one by one. I have never been this way, never measured up to this, never will.

He was physically the strongest man I’ve ever run across, a former boxer and bodybuilder who had tremendous upper body strength. He worked in a bifurcated job, gentle and humorous when dealing with clients, then ditching the coat and tie, donning an apron, and heading into the shop to literally bend steel with his bare hands. From early on, I understood that my dad had a secret identity.

He looked the part of a blue-collar, regular guy, and he could fool you. One day in his 40s, back in the 1970s, he went to a new bar in town and the bartender sized him up.

“You’re welcome here,” he told Dad, “but just so you know – this is a gay bar.”

My father, short and stocky, a no-nonsense guy, took a long drag on his cigarette, and slowly exhaled as he looked at the bartender. “But you do have Scotch, right?”

This is my favorite story about my father, whose life resembled mine not the least, and whose character informs every one of my days. He was as complicated as any of us, flawed and haunted and troubled, but his goodness is what I remember, and what I will this Sunday.

And I’m still not convinced my father couldn’t do anything, which feels right, and probably explains my disinterest in Thor and the Hulk. My dad would have looked ridiculous in tights, but he was the real thing, and even when I was a kid I understood that.


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