In Boozo Veritas #46 by Teege Braune
My Old Man (for Stuart Braune)
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers
teach us at odd moments,
when they aren’t trying to teach us.
We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
“A man knows when he is growing old
because he begins to look like his father.”
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Growing up, I was not inclined to refer to my dad as “my old man.” Every year we’d watch A Christmas Story, and I always thought it was funny that Ralphie calls his dad “the old man.” Every year I decided to start using the expression for my own dad, but it never stuck. Instead, he has always referred to himself as “daddy-o.” He has signed every birthday and Christmas card he has ever given me with this nome de plume. In lower case, no less. As I am the oldest among my siblings, my dad calls me “Son Number One,” but the way he writes it can vary. Sometimes he spells it out, but sometimes he writes “son no. 1,” and when he’s feeling particularly brief, he simply writes “son # 1.”
Once when I was a teenager, I found my baby book sitting in the back of a closet. It was interesting to flip through a collection of memories that, while about me, were not my own, and the short, loving messages my mom wrote to my infant self were incredibly sweet and moving. I came upon a page that the publisher had entitled “A Message to My Son,” the publisher had also kindly included a poem that was both sentimental and endorsed masculine stereotypes. My dad had drawn a large X over the poem and written next to it, “This is not my message.” Instead he wrote a short passage entitled “I’m Glad I Didn’t Kill You.” The story told of a time not long after my birth when my dad was hiking in the Smoky Mountains with me strapped to his back. When he tripped over a branch in the trail, I came flying out of my pompous and began to roll towards the edge of a cliff, coming to rest mere inches from the a sheer drop of several hundred feet. My dad concluded the story by mentioning that had I fallen, my mom would have killed him too, so at least we would be together, but he’s glad we are both alive. I found the story a little jarring as I had never heard it before. I asked him about the next time I saw it.
“I never told you about the time I almost killed you?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I think I would remember that.”
“The funny thing was you didn’t even know you were in peril. You were just lying on the ground by the edge of this cliff laughing,” he told me.
My dad taught me to not only question what others tell me, but my own assumptions as well. He taught me that it is better to be compassionate than judgmental, though he makes doing so look easier than it is. He taught me that an insult can be a compliment, and that pranks make the world a more exciting place. Sometimes he’d say he had to work on a Saturday, but instead he’d drive away, change his clothes in the car, and then return home pretending to be his twin brother Uncle Jack. I was in middle school before I learned that Jack was completely fictional and had never existed at all.
He’s given me many things including his bald head, red beard, and analytical mind, his love of the outdoors, books, movies, classic rock, and classical music, candy, and of course, beer. The funny thing is that I don’t remember him having more than one or two drinks in a single sitting the entire time I was growing up, but as soon as I turned twenty-one, his enthusiasm for guzzling beer with his son number one was both delightful and surprising. One night while we were sitting around his fire pit he became agitated when we ran out of beer.
My brother’s band was playing at a nearby bar, and I reminded him that we were running late. My dad was wearing sweatpants, socks and sandals, and a t-shirt with an arrow pointing to one edge of the Milky Way Galaxy that read “You are here.” I asked him if he was going to put on blue jeans or shoes but he declined. He strapped on his fanny-pack, and we wound through the hills of southern Indiana towards Bearno’s Pizzeria. When we got there he pulled some money out of his fanny-pack and told me to get us a couple of beers.
“What do you want?” I asked him.
“You’re the beer guy,” he said. “Pick me out something good.”
I handed him an IPA, and he took a drink.
“Wow. I really like this,” he said, though I knew he’d probably buy a case of Bud Light the next time he went to the store.
“You know,” he said to me. “When I used to go out with my dad and he’d be dressed like this, I’d think, that old man has no idea how ridiculous he looks, but now that I’m an old fart, I get it. I know I don’t look cool; I just don’t give a shit anymore. I wanna be fucking comfortable.”
I laughed at this. I thought there ought to be a line of men’s wear geared to older guys called “Fucking Comfortable.” I thought, my dad is awesome.
Happy Father’s Day, old man!
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77, episode 90, episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.