My dad taught me a secret. It was a secret he learned as a young man whose left arm was left smaller as a memento of the polio he survived as a child. His handsome brother was a star athlete. My handsome dad was a clown.
One of my favorite stories to hear my father tell was how he defeated the whole town in a costume contest. It was a cold Ohio November parade. He was Tarzan, and as he passed the judges’ table he dropped his bathrobe and let out a loud Tarzan yell, beating his chest with his baby arm (as I affectionately called it).
My Dad’s baby arm was one of my favorite features. I can only imagine what it was like for him when in my teens, I would introduce my gorgeous friends to him and then to his baby arm. I was proud of my Dad. I was comfortable with my Dad. My Dad was always good for the funny and it never occurred to me that this might come at a price. If it did, he never once mentioned it.
My Dad is a brilliant writer. He has been the chosen poet at his class reunions. He never disappoints. He had a good job and provided well for us but what I remember as the greatest gift to receive from him was his hearty laugh. He was not rude, but he would never courtesy laugh. If you could get him to belly laugh, you won dinner.
Over the years, I would ask him for advice or comfort and not surprising, some of those are my favorite comedy moments. I was once freaking out, having over extended myself throwing a dinner party for people I respected so much they terrified me.
His advice: “ Serve drinks with appetizers, lots and lots of drinks! Set the table and pour the drinks. Once they are good and drunk, clear the table, run the dishwasher and ask ‘would anyone care for some dessert?’ If you have done the first part right, your guests will assume they passed out during dinner and will be too drunk to give it another thought.”
My dad’s hatred for cats was no secret. When my husband accidentally ran over our cat with the car, I called my dad, devastated. After listening to me cry, he said the only thing he could say, “I’m sorry honey…”
I was not so far gone, that this gesture of good will was lost on me. “Gee Daddy, now I know you love me. I know it takes a lot for you to say that about a cat!”
He replied, “Let me finish…I’m sorry honey, that I didn’t run over the SOB!” He knew that would make me laugh!
Gallows humor. Not everyone’s style, I know. But for me, it is the only thing that makes me feel safe in the world. My Daddy taught me that secret. If you can laugh at it, whatever IT is, then it cannot defeat you! Of course there are some limits to this. Not everything is funny right away. We have had the funny tested, but thankfully never tested beyond its ability. No matter how bad it gets, the pain and fear makes way for humor. I learned, when Dad is joking about it, it is all going to be OK. I have been watching him closely as he approaches his 88th birthday and having to say goodbye to friends, provide more care for his beautiful wife, and walk on hips that bite. But that courageous, protective, hero from the greatest generation that ever lived is still making me laugh. Come what may, I will carry that torch forward even if it kills me.