Friday, September 12, 2008

Porgy and my Dad

I’ve only seen my father drunk twice. The first time, we were at the beach for Thanksgiving, and all of my siblings were there, and my dad got horribly, horribly drunk. He had his big shirt unbuttoned down to his chest, like, “no, senior please, it is too sexy …” except it wasn’t … and his fathead was so red, and so big, it was a little scary. I thought he might burst like a steampipe. And my dad – my sober, thoughtful, strict, southern Methodist father, with his baritone preacher’s voice and southern drawl – started singing, in a low, deep rumble, a song from Porgy and Bess. “Myyyyyyyyyyyyyy … woman Bessie ………. Oh myyyyyyyyyyyy woman Bessie.”

Up until that time, I hadn't known my father had ever seen Porgy and Bess. Or any musical, for that matter. Much less one about the life of people living on Catfish Row in South Carolina the 20s. Oh man, his head was so fat.

The second time was at my graduation party. I was headed to grad school at Tulane, and he already knew I was going to be doing a bit of drinking in college, so he let my mom get a keg – a keg! – my conservative, southern father let us have a keg of Guiness, and he proceeded to get mighty drunk off of it. When the party died down, I told him I was going to take off to visit a friend at a local diner – and he looked up at me, shirt half undone again, and said, “you’re not going anywhere, you little jerk.” When my brother tried to tell him it was ok, he said, “NO! you’re not going, you flatbellied piss-ant.” And then he passed out and I went and had an omlette.

So in college, last day of school, sophomore year, my mom called me, and with two words, changed my life forever. I could tell she had been crying, and when I asked what was wrong she said, simply,

“Dad’s dead.”

It was a heart attack, at work, 9:30 am, as he rushed to a meeting. No one could have predicted that. At the funeral, I spoke about a dream I had about him, and all my siblings talked too about the articles he’d written about them and how much they loved him. The next four months of the summer were pretty much a daze. It’s been more than six years since he died, and I still think about it, and cry about it, and dream about it, all the time. I wish he were here so I could tell him all about my life – so I could ask his advice about the woman that I love – so I could watch a Michigan football game with him on a lazy October Saturday and hear him softly snoring in the chair next to me. I wish I could hear him yell “hot damn,” when they scored, just one last time.

And it’s funny, my dad did a lot of really great things in his life, but the times that I keep remembering were the two times I ever saw him drunk. We sit around and talk about it and laugh and joke, and my mom gets so angry. She yells at us, “That’s not the person your dad was, he was a great man. He was a sober man, and an honest man.” But I don’t know, for some reason, those drunken, crazy times are the ones I remember – him at his most vulnerable, most funny – and most human.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. “Myyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy woman Bessie. Oh myyyyyyyyyyy woman Bessie.”

I miss you, dad.


Stephanie Anne said...

i enjoyed the post, jon.
when you went to the diner, you went to the Fleetwood, right? And I want to meet this girl that you love.