My father used to lecture me a lot as a kid, particularly in the car. And he knew every single back road in Columbia County so I heard a lot of them... We often rode around for no good reason - just to ride around. Of course, gas was much less expensive then. Usually, the radio was not played by law of Dad. I think he found it distracting. Instead, he would hum several bars of Starry, Starry Night over and over and over again.
"Starry Starry Night...dada dada dada da! dada dada dada da! da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da!"
He inflected every note of the song but never sang more than those first three words.
I was nearly 30 before I actually heard this song for real. I wasn't certain if it was actually a real song or if it was just something he had made up to hum to himself.
In-between humming this refrain, he would lecture me. He would start out clearing his throat, launching into, "O.K...Fatherly lecture #374..."
- Don't leave clothing tags on the table after you cut them off your new clothes, or else someone might choke on them.
- Don't turn your wheels when sitting at the red light at an intersection, or else a plow may come up behind you, hit the back end of your car, and push you into another lane of track. (There was also a variation of this which ended with the plow decapitating you.)
- Don't mow a wet lawn - especially on a hillside - or else you might get sucked under and lose a foot. (Dad wouldn't let me mow the lawn til I was nearly 16, and even then, he was reluctant.)
- Don't distract the driver at an intersection.
And in keeping with 'Bob Brown' style, each one of these came with a vivid illustration, often of someone he had known 'personally'. The plow decapitation victims were several young Hudson, NY girls who used to stop at his older brother's garage, Dell's Shell on the Park, where he pumped gas when he was young. Now I don't know if these young ladies who met an early demise ever actually existed. Now that I'm older and a parent myself, I suspect Dad was just taking advantage of certain literary conventions in an attempt to have me empathize with the protagonists of the stories.
He thought it would be fun if he wrote down his fatherly lectures, if we collaborated on some writing together. I am sad to say that I never took him up on this offer.
Now, not all of Dad's lectures were silly. And even the so-called 'silly' ones had were well intended. I find myself using some of these same tricks from time to time with my own kids. (Ask Seth about the basement monkeys...) Many times, Dad was full of excellent advice, pushing me constantly to go back to college, to do this, to do that...
"Ahhh! What a pain!" I thought. Every single time he would come to visit - for MANY YEARS - he would bug me about going back to school. He thought I was a good writer. He wanted to see me do something. He even printed out the crappy papers I wrote in high school and saved them. They weren't really genius, but Dad acted impressed, nonetheless.
Well, tonight, Dana was out for a bit. Lily and Liam were wrestling in the living room and Seth was hanging out at Tony's Card Shop with his friends. Dad was in his customary spot on the love seat and I sat down next to him, something I should try to do more often on a regular basis.
This is when he started to lecture me - lecture me about going back to school.
"You know, I took a class at Hudson Valley once," he stated. Hudson Valley is actually an excellent community college, but when I was a stupid teenager, all of my friends referred to it as "Happy Valley" and I felt it would have been more embarrassing to go to a community college than going to a real school. I had my heart set on Middlebury. I was accepted at St. Rose. I was not going to go to Happy Valley...I was not going to go to a community college.
Oh, how very young and stupid I was then!
Dad continued to prod me about going back to college and how he really wanted me to go back to get a four year degree.
"But Dad, I graduated from college already," I explained.
"What?!...When did that happen? Why didn't someone tell me?" he demanded.
"It's OK, Dad; you were there. It was just such a long time ago now. That's why you probably can't think of it."
"Oh, O.K....well, where did you go?" he asked.
"SUNY New Paltz."
"Oh, O.K....well, that's good then, isn't it?" he asked.
We spent some more time on the couch before Dana came back to house. It was nearing 7:30 and time to put Liam down and tuck Dad into bad. I walked Dad up while Dana amused Liam for a few minutes. At first, he protested that we weren't going to share a room.
"Believe me, Dad, I have to sleep with the babies and you do not want to do that! I will see you in the morning; I will wake you up for breakfast," I said, thinking in my head that there was no way I'd be up before him. I often find Dad in the living room at 3 in the morning, waiting in the dark...
As I was closing his bedroom door tonight, he suddenly came up with a good idea.
"Hey! How about SUNY New Paltz?" he suggested.
* * *
Incidentally, about six years ago now, I had bought some new clothes and left the tiny plastic clothing tags laying on my dining room table. Later on, I was eating some dip out of a bowl on the same table. Now I don't know how that tiny plastic tag ended up in the dip, but it did...and I nearly choked on it!
Father knows best!