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Archive for April, 2019

Daddy

I want my Daddy!” dreaming-me cries to whatever enclosure encapsulates what’s happening.  It doesn’t listen.  Night terrors are interesting company but do not substitute for the real people we miss and want to revisit.  I need to write about that larger than life man but strangely procrastinate.  I don’t want to tell about his shadow side, not that it ever wished me ill or caused me harm—purposefully that is.  So I put off doing what I want to do.  I have shared story snippets of that whimsical father, Kelsey Martin at home, sharing family fun with adoring progeny, tutoring daughter longing to stride in his steps, caring for aging mother.  That is much easier than explaining how he forgot to divorce my mother before he married, one after another, four other women, and asked that I call them Mom, or when he left me and my mother destitute—me forever afraid—her left with a child to support, having no marketable skills save poetry and piano playing.

But daytime memories are different:  I open my front door and moan, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize— but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my inventor father, Kelsey, when, during one joint endeavor, I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.

“I’m not that smart,” I protested.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart—just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was understandable as several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an art of war.  It can focus energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does so well.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy family.  Daddy analyzed everything; only then he proceeded with what must be done, but he always gave it his own special twist. 

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin, fly-tracker beyond compare, donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Porta-Vac, with its extra-long extension tube and set out on the hunt of the nasty critters.  He delighted in this creative play, experiencing the thrill of the hunt, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every winged trophy sucked into and careening down the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner, and that it was only Daddy who wore the safari hat; Our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to put legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of putting on pants both legs at once.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the edge of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, he folded knees to chest and leaned far, far back, thrusting both feet into their proper pant legs as trousers sailed aloft.  When he rolled forward into starting position, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, draw up, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed.  “That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under drawers or panties.  Leaning forward while you’re lifting legs one at a time, can strain your back.  Not good!”

OK.  I got the picture.  During the ensuing sixty-six years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks two legs at a time.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent, how taking a mindful approach to life and living can be the birthright of even a lost-and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over and over again day after day after day…a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or folded the diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not a bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and it was easier and faster with extra hands helping.  I did learn from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be structured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.

So—I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house including furniture, and superimposed a grid over the entire drawing.  Next, I labelled each grid square.  Those labels, I copied onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, opaque vase, along with additional whimsical assignments such as: Eat five M&M’s; Take a 30 minute nap; Mop the kitchen floor; Sing a song; Run around the house twice; Have a spot of tea; Count three of your many blessings.

So far so good.  Each player must choose, eyes closed, a slip of paper from the dark interior of the vase.  There’s the possibility you may be instructed to munch sweets or do push-ups.  More likely you will get a grid square number.  This is the point at which you feel the weight of the impossible task lift from your shoulders.  You must address what is in your grid square and only that.  You may not do any work outside of that square.  Like an observant Jew savoring the Sabbath, you are relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not performing the whole impossible task.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must you do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of the bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must in the benevolent order of things await their turn.

Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.  But having an endless source of vision can be daunting, as night after night of dream attests and revisits.  My job is to integrate both fathers—the one in my dreams—and the one in my remembrances, into what is right and real.  Then he can indeed rest in peace, and so can I.

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