I was thinking of my dad the other day. It happens often.
He would have been 94 a couple of weeks ago—would have been. He fell just short by thirty years.
I sure do wish he were still around. There are things I would like to ask him about himself. Things he said and did—especially around my four brothers and me. I would just want to ask him, “What was that all about?”
Before you jump to conclusions, the guy was a great dad. He was a big bear of a man—and at 6 foot 6, a gentle giant. Ever notice, by the way, how large men are described as ‘gentle giants?’ You never read obituaries describing someone as a ‘belligerent ogre.’
You also never read: “He hated kids, animals, the outdoors, spending time with his family and walks on the beach. He was a miserable wretch.”
But back to my dad, who was none of that.
He was a man who occasionally tried to impress upon us that he knew things and had powers that other humans did not possess—and that if we paid attention, we too might learn them.
He did not have super-strength, X-ray vision or the ability to fly—at least not in front of us. But he had powers and abilities not commonly seen.
He had one entirely unique self-taught habit: When he wanted to scratch his nose, he would form his hand into a fist—and then rub his middle knuckles back and forth quickly against his nostrils, in the much the same motion one would use to grate cheese. This may not seem like much of a ‘power’—but it IS a remarkably efficient and effective way to ease nose itch. Try it. You will never go back to the old ways.
Sometimes he would pick up an inanimate object: A hat, a stuffed animal toy, a pair of socks, whatever—and cradle it in his arms as if it were an infant. Suddenly, the object would seem to come to life, appearing to jump and thrash around in his arms as if trying to get away.
My brothers and I surmised that the old man was quickly flicking one of his fingers to make the object appear to move. But he denied that it was a stunt—swearing it was actual magic. With no hard counter evidence, we could only shrug and believe him. Why would our own dad try to fool us?
He also invented a character—and alter ego—that he would suddenly transform into—usually without warning: The Electro Man! He would shuffle across a room towards us as if in a trance—his eyes rocking back into his sockets, and his arms outstretched like the Frankenstein monster. Then, when he arrived at our spot, he would reach out and touch one of us lightly with his index finger, delivering an instant, snapping—although not nearly fatal electrical shock.
We never noticed at the time that The Electro Man was most effective when the air in the house was dry—and that he dragged his feet across the wall-to-wall carpet very deliberately. He would touch us on the nose or ear—there would be an electrical spark—we’d wince—and then he would say, “That’s what happens to kids who are not well-grounded.”
During World War II, he served in India. Years later, as we were growing up, he would often demonstrate “A mysterious, ancient Indian trick of magic” that he had learned from a sorcerer in New Delhi. Using a muttered incantation and sheer willpower— a human being of any height, he said, could stretch beyond their normal height—growing several inches taller.
Since he was already six and-a-half feet tall, the maneuver seemed like overkill. Nonetheless, he would make us watch as he would close his eyes, sigh deeply—and then
make himself grow upward. When finished, he would say proudly, “Well, can you believe it?” We always nodded in enthusiastic amazement. Then, as soon as he would leave the room, we’d turn to each other and say, “He didn’t grow a millimeter. That trick stinks.”
I figured my dad’s philosophy was something like this: Just as surely it is the province of dads everywhere to guide and set good examples for their kids—it is also their responsibility to occasionally delude and mislead them. After all, it helps prepare young people for when they become older and start listening to politicians.
One more of my dad’s ruses: We were the last house on our block, maybe in our town, to get a color TV. But my dad had a solution. He bought each of us a pair of cheap sunglasses.
“Watch TV wearing them,” he told us. “It turns a black and white TV into color.”
We wore them. We watched. I don’t know about my brothers, but I was not so easily fooled.
And by the time I was 24, I knew it was baloney.