I changed a lot after that. A lot of things changed.
The older I get, the less people know this about me – that I lost my dad so young. I prefer it in a way. It leaves me free to tell them more about how he lived than how he died.
He laughed a lot. He loved puns and corny jokes, or better yet, puns in corny jokes! There were a certain few jokes that he told ad nauseum, all of which featured old song titles. I remember one whose ended with the punchline, “You’ve picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel.” Another had him crooning by the end, “I left my harp in Sam Clam’s Disco.”
My dad insisted on answering questions via sketches, no matter the question and no matter whether I was interested in a complete answer in the first place. He’d pull a pen from his breast pocket, and draw on whatever available surface he could reach: a napkin, receipt, etc. He was a career draftsman at General Motors for 37 years, loved photography, and saw the world in pictures.
When my dad would get home from work, he’d sit at the head of the kitchen table. From this paternal throne, he’d peruse the day’s mail, sip a Diet Rite with Bacardi and chat with my mom. The number of Bacardi shots fluctuated with the day, but never the ritual. “Is it a two-count or three-count day?” I would ask once I was old enough to mix his drink myself.
He liked to run errands on the weekend, watch CHiPs on Sunday nights, and bounce us up and down on his lap. On the flip side, he could give a stinging bare-bottomed spanking and a surprisingly forceful hand slap.
My dad liked beer, especially out of authentic, boot-shaped beer steins, but other spirits as well. He’d get schnockered on Drambuie at the Christmastime and once, a Type 2 diabetic, he got sugar drunk at my sister’s high-school graduation party. More than drink, he loved food. He’d peruse my mom’s cookbooks and check with a pencil those recipes he wanted her to try. Before long, the system grew to include check pluses and exclamation marks. He’d also cook for himself. His favorite weekend breakfast would stink up the entire house: a three-egg omelet stuffed with canned peas and a half-pound of Fontina cheese.
During dinner, dad would tell us stories about “the guys at work,” a single entity. Whenever I’d ask about individual identities, he’d offer a less than useful reply. “Who’s Mr. Babowski?” I’d ask. “Mrs. Babowski’s son,” he’d reply. Over the years, the “guys at work” were his lifeline and an invaluable source of what we now call life hacks. My favorite involved jury-rigging our Atari 800 to play a boot-legged games that he’d bring home on big, floppy disks. My favorite was the game whose objective was to scale the cliffs of a high desert plain before the birds shat on you.
My dad had a visceral love of music. At band concerts, he’s tap his foot and nod his head to the beat. A little bit of me died of embarrassment each time. I was not embarrassed, however, to watch him man dance. He could swing dance with the best of them.
Most of all, my dad loved to smile, just like he’s doing in the photo above. In the end, that’s all I have myself: reflections of him in round. So today, I smile in his memory.
Antonino Simonte, 1/4/1931-2/4/1987