David Knopf - Similarities bring Dad closer in memory than in life

06/18/2013 12:00 AM

06/16/2013 9:30 PM

Father’s Day 2013 is just a memory. Ties have been given, steaks grilled and microbrews consumed.

But my father’s memory continues from within, day by day, year after year, tall and impossible to ignore.

I was never close to him, at least as far as daily interaction goes. There were no father-son camping trips, no fatherly talks, not a lick of guy commiseration about how hard it is for men for get along with women and compromise.

We did go to a few ball games and played catch, often with my father having a cigar stuck in his mouth and doing an exaggerated, comic imitation of big-league pitchers and their repertoire of tics and gestures, repeated gravely as if the next pitch would determine humankind’s fate.

He’s been gone 14 years, and with each year it seems I think about him more and more. Not so much think about him, but

be

him and notice his gestures, jokes and pet phrases flowing from our common gene pool.

It’s a funny way to get to know your dad, but I’m not complaining.

My mother and I were close. We spent time together, went on shopping trips, ate at cafeterias, enjoyed each other’s company. Naturally, I’m a lot like her, too — creative and moody, with a tendency for dark grumpiness and self-medication.

It’s all part of the creative package.

But what surprises me is how little I think about her and how much my father’s image keeps popping up, mostly in things I say and do — nervously overcoming social discomfort with humor, word play and Stooge-like funny faces.

My older half-brother was always my father’s favorite. I felt far more competitive with the younger of the half-brothers, the talented athlete who always tested my father’s patience, volunteered for the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team and eventually went off the deep end and lost contact with the family, the human race and, I presume, himself.

I could never understand why my older brother idolized my father. In “real time” — the actual pre-memory life before genetic tendencies brought us closer together — my father seemed as annoying and grating as a scratched record that repeats things over and over.

He would say the same stuff again and again, make the same silly faces, tells the same stale jokes — ethnic jokes that wouldn’t pass muster today — and annoy me so much I could predict what he’d say or do in any situation.

In some sense, today I am him.

When my father drove the car — remember this was years before road rage became popular — drivers who ticked him off were all named “Charlie” or “Joe.” He had a hot temper (the Knopf irritability factor is well documented) that he seemed to reserve for other drivers, my mother and me.

I don’t precisely remember what set it off, but there was that time I called him “a dirty Nazi” and he chased me around the apartment until my mother could get between us and save an adolescent’s life.

It was something about the way he said the word “stupid” that sounded Germanic to me — “schtupid,” maybe — that got me going. It was nothing compared to the detonation I set off by calling my father, a Jew born in Eastern Europe, that other “N word.”

Who knows, had he “beaten the living daylights” out of me — that was one of his pet phrases — it might’ve knocked down a barrier and brought us closer together. Sometimes the conjunction of anger and remorse can accomplish that.

I think I would’ve liked some closeness, but I’ll settle for being just like him.

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