It’s Dad’s Fault

It was August of 2002 when I realized that I was, in fact, my father’s daughter.  I’m exactly like him, dammit.

It wasn’t my best moment as a parent.  I still feel guilty about it.  And Jacob, my only child, makes sure I do.  He still glares at me when he recalls that day.  But it wasn’t my fault.  Really.  I blame Dad.  The fact that he’d died nearly two years earlier did not absolve him one little bit.

John, Jacob and I had just moved back from Europe in July, and Jacob would start his new school in September.

That August afternoon, I held in my hand the most important envelope of every child’s year — the one that told us what class he would be in for the entire school year.  It had just arrived.  Each year since Jacob had been in kindergarten, we opened that envelope together the minute it arrived.

Naturally, Jacob was nervous.  He wanted more than anything to be in class with his brand new best friend ever, Joe.  Jacob wasn’t concerned that he might not like his teacher.  Or that the work would be too hard for him.  No, he worried that he’d be in a class of entirely new kids.  Ones he hadn’t known, like, for a month.

We stood at the kitchen counter and slit open the envelope.  I read it aloud:

“Jacob K has been assigned to Mrs. Smith’s 1st Grade class.”

Assigned to Mrs. Smith’s FIRST GRADE class?  Jacob was 11.  He was supposed to be going into 5th Grade, not 1st.  WTF?

Jacob looked at the letter, and looked up at me with panic in his eyes.

That’s when my late father rose up and spoke out of my mouth.

“Well,” I said to Jacob, philosophically, “I guess you’ll have to start again with 1st Grade.”

Jacob’s eyes bulged, his mouth fell open in a silent moan, and tears started forming behind his eyeballs.

Of course I couldn’t hold it for long, I burst out laughing and quickly followed up my sarcastic comment with “I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding,” and a big hug.  “They just made a mistake.  We’ll go to the school tomorrow morning when school opens and they’ll correct it.  And if you want, you can ask them to put you in Joe’s class.”

Somehow, Jacob slept that night, and the next day we went to the school, where they apologized profusely for their error and did, indeed, put Jacob into Joe’s class.  It made Jacob feel like the folks at his new school were on his side.

But what made me torture my son like that?

Dad.  He made me do it.  Because I’d bet my life that that’s exactly what Dad would have said to a terrified boy who feared he had to restart school at the beginning.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  That’s exactly what my Dad would have done.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I adored my Dad.  We were close from the moment of conception, I’m pretty sure.  I was the last of five kids, and the acknowledged favorite, well before any of my elder siblings were even born.  Dad was just waiting for me.  Because I was the one who would “get” him.  He made me laugh.  Everybody else was terrified of Dad.  And with good reason.  Most people couldn’t tell when he was joking.

My first memory of Dad is not exactly a happy one.

I was three years old, and had gotten my head caught between the legs of my horse, Lightening. And Dad laughed at me.  Seriously!  Can you believe his cruelty?

Now before you start assuming that that’s where my brain damage came from, I have to confess that Lightening was a pretty special horse.  Lightening was usually a black stallion, although sometimes, when the mood struck, he was a white one.  Lightening  was also the second fastest horse in the West.  He was regularly beaten by Thunder, my brother Fred’s horse.  Fred named our horses before he learned that lightening is faster than thunder.

To other people, what we rode on weren’t “real” horses.  They were the railings surrounding our staircase landing.  Their legs were made of pickets that were thin at the top and widened at the bottom.  I’d stuck my head through the pickets at the top, slid down, and was unable to pull it out at the bottom.

Google, of course

Google, of course.
As close as I could come, but ours were thin at the top and thick at the bottom. Really. How else would there be a story here?

I was not a happy child at that particular moment.  I was uncomfortable.  I was stuck.  I’m sure I was thinking that my whole family would be laughing at that moment for years.  I was right.

Nobody could calm me down enough to lift my head up and get me out of there.  In kid years, which are just like dog years,  I was there for days and days.  I was there forever.

When Mom couldn’t get me out, she told me that she’d get Dad who would.  I started calming immediately.  Dad could fix anything.   Absolutely anything.  He would get me out from underneath Lightening.  He’d do it like he did everything, with a cigarette hanging out of one side of his mouth, and a carpenter’s rule and pencil in his pocket.  With those three things, Dad could rule the world.

Dad came up from the basement  and quickly sized up the situation.  I’m sure he took a drag from his cigarette when he said, “Hmmmm.”

His presence alone calmed me, stopped my crying.  I knew he’d get me out, somehow.  I knew I didn’t have to worry.  I knew that soon everything would be OK.

“Hmmmm,” said Dad again.  “I guess we’re just gonna have to cut your head off.”


Spoiler Alert!  He did not cut off my head.

Once I stopped screaming, Dad was able to lift my head up a bit to where the railing was thin at the top, and got my head out.

For as long as she lived, my mother shook her head whenever she thought of that day.  “I still can’t believe he said that to you,” she’d say with a laugh.  “Right after he’d calmed you down!”

Clearly, I take after my Dad.  Jacob was (and is) never quite sure whether to take something I say seriously.  (Duh! Never!)

But you know what?  I think that’s a good lesson in life.  That you have to find the humor, no matter how terrified you might be.  Even at the scariest times.

Dad taught me something important that day when I was stuck underneath Lightening.  That if you can laugh at whatever’s holding you back, you’re gonna be just fine.  Unless of course you’re stuck underneath the second fastest horse in the west.  Then screaming bloody murder is the way to go.

Thanks Dad for getting me out of that jam and a million others.  I miss you.


Filed under Family, History, Humor

63 responses to “It’s Dad’s Fault

  1. ajbarlow02

    You and your dad sound like me and my dad. I’m a teacher and cruelly do this to my students whenever the opportunity presents itself. I’m going to follow your blog now!


  2. Loved this – A sense of humor is a genetic trait, right?


  3. Aw, your dad sounds like a peach. Happy Father’s Day to him – I’m sure he’s still looking after you (and laughing at you) from heaven.


    • Thanks a lot, Peg. But I fear you are saying that the after life won’t be any different from the current one. Damn, I was hoping for some respect.


  4. A wonderful childhood memory told authentically and delightfully. NIcely done, Elyse!


  5. Great tribute. My dad does not even talk much. He is a silent, kind and simple person. So I enjoyed it a lot. 🙂


  6. PC is totally overrated, if you ask me! But calling the Indians to come and get you must have been terrifying. Unless of course you were young when they had the crying Indian commercial on Then I guess you would have had to clean up litter.

    I always played the Indian as a kid so I can tell you that we would have been really nice to you.


  7. My father used to threaten to “Call the Indians to come and take us away” when we misbehaved. Thoroughly un PC my dad was. I am like him in many ways, as are my kids. And far from thinking it’s a regrettable thing, I cherish it and polish it–especially because he’s no longer here. I enjoyed this, it made me think of my dad.


  8. I’m another one with just the same sense of humour….your memories of your Dad made me smile.


  9. I suspect I would have loved your father. That is funny as can be. Had I been there I would have been pointing (at you) and laughing (hysterically) after he said that. In fact I would have likely offered to run and get the hacksaw.

    I think it is awesome you inherited this from your dad.


    • Somehow, I imagine that’s just what happened. That one of my siblings offered to assist. Except Fred, who would have wanted to saw the railing.

      But we all inherited Dad’s sense of humor. Family gatherings are a riot.


  10. Luanne

    Hahahahahahaha. I had to learn to tame that particular type of humor when I started teaching (adults). What kids will tolerate students will not ;). Whiners all of them (sort of kidding).


  11. My dad would have gotten along very well with yours.
    And you and I could probably still get a volume discount at the therapists.

    beautiful story!


  12. cooper

    If he was really cruel, he would have taken a picture.


    • True. But that would have involved breaking that rule of all parents of big families — actually taking photos of the younger ones … there are about 3 of me. I hope I never have to prove that I’m part of the family with photographic evidence.


  13. This was a wonderful story of your Dad. I can see him in front of me as you paint a pretty vivid picture. Most of all, though, I can hear the laughter.
    Enjoy the weekend.


    • Thanks, Michelle. Hope you have a good weekend and rest up, staying away from spiders.

      There was a lot of laughter that day at the railing. None of it was mine, though.


  14. I loved this. Amazing how non-creative most childhood names for things are. Lightning and Thunder are actually pretty high up there – I myself had a horse-shaped pool float named Mr. Horse and a blanket named Blankie.


  15. winsomebella

    Fun memories, well-told :-).


  16. Pfft, it is the right of parents to torture their children thusly. I do that to my kids all the time. They don’t fall for it…ever…but I still do it. We all get a laugh out of it.


  17. Wonderful tribute. But I must say, the comment about returning to first grade was what I would have said!


  18. Snoring Dog Studio

    Lovely memories. What a lovely man.


  19. Oh man, my dad was a lot like yours! His humor was a bit dry, deadpan and unnerving when we were kids. Now that I’m older, I see him for the genius he was. This post was one of my favorites, Elyse. Your writing just pulls me right in (and gets stuck in the staircase right along with you!)


  20. bigsheepcommunications

    Hey, it could’ve been worse. When I was a kid, a little boy down the street got his head stuck between the wrought iron posts on his front steps. The entire fire department arrived (and the whole neighborhood congregated) to cut a post and get him out. He’s probably still in therapy…


  21. I think I might be that kind of parent because my reaction to your statement to your son was “Oh..I would have totally said that.”


  22. My dad was a jokester too, often inappropriately. My mother says we would have been idiots had he helped us with our homework regularly because he thought funny answers were better than actual correct ones. But for the record, I’m happy you got to keep your head.


    • Thanks, Renee — I really think that if you can laugh you can solve anything. It’s when you can’t, that’s when you’re in trouble. Except perhaps in school with homework!


  23. Let me be the first to say — I’m glad he didn’t cut your head off.


    • Thank you Laura. For saying it, and for saying it first. I’m glad he didn’t too. I’ve grown even more attached to it since that day. Although there have been days when putting my head between the legs of a black (or white) stallion would have been welcome!


  24. this was perfection … the whole thing … and thanks for sharing

    my particularly favorite part was the Spoiler Alert
    I might have even hurt myself a little bit with a snort of laughter


  25. Love your story and your writing!! I keep praying my son inherits all our good traits…Hey! Who knows!! Ha! God Bless!


  26. Beautifully written, great post.


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