Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gopher Guts

Today's photo is from my book, Thank You, Dad. This Dad is giving his little girls driving lessons at an early age!

Here's a little story I completed recently, one that I hope will ring familiar to the ears of daughters who have fun but mischevious memories of dad:

I used to take Meagan to work with me on occasion when she wasn’t in school. I’ve had a number of jobs in the healthcare industry, each offering a significant change of scenery for both us. One job was at a rehabilitation facility where she entertained patients in the physical therapy gym with her weird dance moves when she wasn’t riding the hallways in the laps of people who used motorized wheelchairs. In another she was my summer travel partner, boarding airplanes like a seasoned pro, jumping on the hotel beds and somehow always managing to convince me we needed to order breakfast from room service.

Meagan carried her own briefcase with her when we went to work, one filled with crayons, stickers, rubber stamps and ink pads, Post-it Notes and more messy stuff. You could always tell where she’d been; she left tracks everywhere.

I know of other young daughters who would accompany their dads to work. They could sit all day by daddy’s office phone trying to leave the perfect voicemail message, or type memos for him, the kind that would bring a smile to the face of whomever it was eventually delivered to. Going to work with dad was a time to draw pictures with magic markers on white boards instead of with crayons on plain white paper, perhaps even attend a meeting, and a chance to drink a little bit of coffee. I know one woman who kept a secret candy stash in her dad’s desk, a stash her mom didn’t know about.

This woman with the secret candy stash rode the train with her father to get to his place of work. To pass the time waiting for the train to arrive they entertained themselves by singing silly songs they made up on the spot. One went something like this: “Oh what a feeling, to be sun burnt and start peeling,” sung to the tune of Lionel Richie’s song, “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

They also played the “Name Game.”

The name game was one where you took a name and restated it as many times as you could in random rhyming sing-song words, as in “Stefanee, Stefanee, bo befanee, banana danna fo fefanee, me my oh mefanee, yo Stefanee.”

Apparently one morning her dad wanted to play the Name Game and told her to use the name “Chuck.”

She promptly began singing. “Chuck, Chuck bo buck, banana danna fo…” You get the picture.

Realizing what she had said, she started to cry. She looked over at her dad and found him rocking in his seat, laughing so hard he was shaking. When he could talk again he assured her it was okay that she had said that word, and he then encouraged her sing it one more time, making sure she promised not to tell her mom.

She told me she understood at that moment that it was okay to mess up and to make mistakes; it was okay to laugh at yourself and your silly screw ups. Most importantly, she learned her dad wouldn’t punish her for something she didn’t mean to do.

This story reminded me of a game Meagan and I used to play on the way to work or anytime we were stuck sitting in the car. We called it the “Bucket Game.” The idea was to try to gross each other out by calling one another the vilest description of whatever putrid and disgusting matter we could think of, in a bucket. As in “You’re a bucket of greasy, grimy, rotten gopher guts crawling with maggots and stinking like pig poop on a hot summer day.” We could go on and on like this for miles; we meant it in the most affectionate way.

I had a bad habit at the time of using a few choice words, usually describing body parts in unflattering ways, to share my thoughts about other people’s driving skills during rush hour traffic. It did not occur to me, although it should have, that my young and impressionable passenger was listening carefully and adding these words to her Bucket Game vocabulary.

One day while attending a meeting with my employees, I looked over at Meagan who was playing with the magnets on the staff scheduling board. “Stop that, you little booger,” I said.

Without missing a beat she looked at me and said, “If I’m a booger, you’re a bucket of….” I was unable to restore order in the meeting after that.

I’m not sure if Meagan learned anything from this event, and of course she didn’t get in trouble for it because like my friend, she didn’t know any better. I, on the other hand, learned a lot - to be careful with what words I spoke in front of my child. After all, if I could say it, why shouldn’t she?

A woman told me once of how her dad and his twin brother learned to play cribbage while serving in the Army during the Second World War. The brothers in turn taught their children how to play the Army way, which meant cussing at crucial moments during the game.

This father and daughter would settle down to play cribbage after dinner, knowing full well the mom in the house would not approve of the course language coming from her daughter’s mouth. It was a bonding experience between her and her dad, one she enjoyed immensely.

Years after her dad died her mother asked if there was anything she wanted to take as a remembrance of her father. She chose his cribbage board.

Later she herself had children and when he was old enough, taught her son to play cribbage. During one lesson she gave him a piece of advice she had learned at her daddy’s knee. As her son debating what to discard, she told him what her dad had told her and that was, “Never give the other bastard anything.”

Her son now uses that phrase in his daily conversations, much to the delight of his mother.

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