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Al Batt: My father was one of my two favorite parents

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I remember the time my father said those three little words every son longs to hear,  “Ask your mother.”

I miss Dad, but if he were alive today, the mere thought of a driverless car would kill him.

It’s funny what brings recollections. I heard the Laurel and Hardy theme song, “The Dance of the Cuckoos.” Memories blew by like tumbleweeds. Dad and I shared an appreciation for that comedic duo. Looking back is like reading the end of a book first to see how it turned out.

Sometimes I feel like a fatherless child. I was never fatherless until my father died. Dad was always there for me, whether I wanted him to be or not.

During a time that some might suggest was neither hustling or bustling, my father drove to the nearest Iowa courthouse and gave a clerk 25 cents.

“You can drive now,” said the clerk, handing him a driver’s license. No exam required. Dad drove home. He was 14. He was an excellent driver.

I got my license when I was 15 because I lived on a farm. It wasn’t a smooth road. I flunked my test. I thought I was an excellent driver up until then. I had many excuses for my failure. None were good. I waited two weeks to take another driver’s test. I was the first to be tested that day. Losers go first. I passed with low-flying colors. This is an example of how our lives were the same only different.

Dad had been a bachelor repurposed into a husband and father. He’d been a climate refugee, moving from Iowa to tropical Minnesota during the good old days, which likely weren’t as numerous as had been reported. He’d been born in Iowa and remained an Iowan at heart, but never complained about being planted a bit north of where he should have been. He grew up without a TV, so he couldn’t tell anyone how to get to Sesame Street. He liked and disliked politics. He told me, when I was old enough to vote, that there were two things I could do in a voting booth. He didn’t want to hear about either of them. I was never quite sure what the second thing was.

I’m frequently an echo of my father. I say things he said. He declared that nothing good happened after midnight. He was wrong. He said half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. When someone opens a door for you, walk through it. A bump in the night is almost always benign, but is worthy of an investigation.

My father and I differ — much of it might be generational. He never cried, at least not where anyone could see him. I cry. I still need work. If I’m in a movie theater and I wake up to find my wife crying, I know it’s a chick flick. We couldn’t reboot things in those thrilling days of yesteryear. We had to learn how to fix them. Dad could fix things. I can break things. My father could change a flat tire in the blink of a gnat’s eye without misplacing a single lug nut. I’ve nearly forgotten how to change a tire, but I’m certain I could still lose a lug nut. Dad could sing. I’m encouraged not to. I like roundabouts. I suspect my father wouldn’t have.

He was a good father. He never kept the butter at his end of the table. His truths were never peppered with fiction. He was like Dwight Eisenhower, making his mistakes slowly. He was slow to become as mad as a wet hen. He had difficulty admitting being wrong and didn’t excel in demonstrating intimacy. If my hair had little mallard tails on the back of my head, he told me to get a haircut. Dad thought walking bean rows, picking rocks, baling hay and doing other things that didn’t involve air conditioning built character.

My joining the world made him an older father. He’d play catch with me, but he was on a limited pitch count. We’d toss the old horsehide around until he pulled a muscle or an earlobe. He needed to save his arm for flyswatter usage. We weren’t concerned about the collapse of insect populations back then.

Dad could make me feel like the king of the world just because I’d fetched the proper wrench or held a flashlight steady as he fixed something.

I loved my father. I told him so. I should have told him more often.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.