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Day 151. in which Bob lectures Alex and it is welcome.

It's been a really long time since I've had a lecture from my dear old dad. But tonight he had it stuck in his head that I needed to go to college and get my degree (which I already have).

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 went for a car ride for no reason other than to ride around. More often than not, playing the car radio was not permitted. Looking backwards, I suspect now that he found it distracting, although as a teenager, I would have sworn it was an act of control! Sometimes he would reminisce about how different things had looked when he was a kid, how the strip mall had once been farmland, how unfamiliar it could still seem. Other times, we said nothing at all, and drove on in the silence.

Interrupting our shared silence, he would hum the beginning bars of Don McClean's Starry, Starry Night which at the time I didn't recognize as an actual song. 

"Starry Starry Night...dada dada dada daaaaaa! dada dada dada daaaaaaa! da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa!...”

He inflected every note of the song but never sang more than the first three words. I was nearly thirty years old when one day the song came on the radio and I recognized it as the song my father had partially hummed for so many years. I had never considered it was an actual song.

Between the humming and silence, the lecture was deftly interwoven. He would clear his throat, and taking an overly deep voice to import a serious tone and launch into his lecture, "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. 
  • Never 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 resulted in the plow decapitating the driver.)
  • 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 until I was nearly 16, and even then, he was reluctant, so this really hadn't been a risk.)
  • Never distract the driver at an intersection! (Yes, lots of intersection warnings.) 
Yes, many of them concentrated on driving. I guess this was Dad's idea of 'driving lessons' because he never sat in the passenger seat with me driving as a teenager. This may also help explain my abject fear of driving to those of you who know me. I heard many of these lectures time and time again...

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 girls from Hudson, NY 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, and hope that if he could read this now, he'd smile.

Now, not all of Dad's lectures were silly. And even the so-called 'silly' ones 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...

Every single time he would come to visit over a period of years, he would lecture me about going back to school. I dreaded this conversation because I felt I had disappointed him after taking a long hiatus after high school. He thought I was a good writer. He wanted to see me do something. He had even printed out the crappy papers I wrote in high school on Nathaniel Hawthorne, and later, the Bronte sisters, and saved them in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag where they'd forever be preserved which I recently came across. 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 teenager and knew everything, 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!

Tonight, Dad continued to prod me about going back to college and how he really wanted me to go back to earn 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 bed. I walked Dad upstairs 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 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, 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 really does know best!