Actually, I’d really rather not, but this Sunday is my father’s sixtieth birthday party, and apparently it falls to me as the firstborn to mock him mercilessly in front of all of his friends and family on the big day.
I agreed to this weeks ago. I had asked my stepmother, Debbie, what I could do to help with the party preparations, and at the time I felt like I’d gotten off lightly when she asked me to do this. After all, she could have asked to make potato salad for 50 or something. A speech? No problem.
Until I sat down to write it. Now, I’m imagining delivering this thing to an audience including my 80-something-year-old grandparents, a handful of my dad’s cousins whom I haven’t seen since I was ten, and my 12-year-old sister, and I may well be doing it while holding a baby or two – there is just no anecdote funny enough for this situation!
So, I’ve decided to give it a practice spin here, not least because I feel more inclined to blog this afternoon than to work on this speech. Here goes.
Anybody who knows my dad knows that he is just the guy to have around in a lot of situations. If you need someone to tell you which house to buy, or to listen to a funny noise your car has started making, or to turn an end table into a coffee table, Bruce Gilbert is the man to call. If, on the other hand, you need to drive to the airport during rush hour and want someone to keep you company, you’d probably better ask someone else.
My dad has many interesting ideas about driving, and one of them is that it is *always* preferable to be moving, even if it is in the exact opposite direction of where you’re trying to go. This means that he will often do a U-turn on Buck Road rather than sit through even one light. If he has no choice but to sit at a traffic light that has just changed, you will almost certainly hear him say the words, “The *full* red!”
He also truly believes that road signs are intended for less capable drivers than himself. To him, a stop sign means “Glance Around and Slow Down Slightly If Necessary”, and he thinks “No Thru Traffic” should be followed by “Unless You Grew Up In This Neighborhood.” Traffic laws do not apply at all in the snow. And, in general, the answer to any driving rule that is contrary to what my dad wants to do is: “But I’m Bruce Gilbert!” In fact, that is probably exactly what he said to the cop who found him hiding in his shed after trying to escape a speeding ticket on his motorcycle.
In light of all this, it is a good thing that my Dad has an uncanny way of surviving dangerous, potentially life-threatening incidents. He has fallen off a roof, crashed a motorcycle and skidded 20 feet on his back, and tipped over a 25-ton backhoe and yet he has hardly seen the inside of a hospital. (I’m sure Debbie wishes she had the same superpower!)
But having a dad who is a little bit of a rule-bender and a little bit fearless made growing up in this house so much fun. No one else’s dad would climb into the rafters to fetch an escaped balloon, and then do a handstand while he’s up there. Just for fun. No one else’s dad would take everyone for rides in a trailor attached to the lawnmower at their birthday parties. No one else’s dad would drag the hose up through the house and saw a hole in the bathroom door in order to decisively win a water fight that started with a tiny splash of dishwater. My dad is just cool.
But what was cool when I was little doesn’t always seem so cool now that I have children of my own. A favorite pass-time among the dozens of kids who seem to live here is to take a yellow plastic toy car all the way up to the top of the hill and ride it all the way down. The object of the game is to end up as close to the cliff as possible. (Yeah.) I imagine that my dad invented this game and taught it to them. While I was in the hospital last summer having Beatrix, my dad and Debbie had the girls for a day. I learned a few days later that while my dad was casually chatting with a neighbor, Pippa, who was not quite three at the time, had taken the yellow car halfway up the hill and was barrelling, totally out of control, straight toward a tree. Fortunately, the neighbor noticed and asked if she should be doing that just in time for my dad to dive in the way and stop her. Pop-pop is no longer allowed to babysit.
Still, I owe a lot to my dad. I have him to thank for my quirky sense of humor, and my ability to quote movie lines in any situation. (“It was like he was wearing a suit. An… E(d)gar suit.”) I am also thankful that he and Debbie are always so willing to take in strays, whether they be cats or recently immigrated families of four.
Daddy, as much as I don’t want to be around when you cut a board too short or discover a new scratch on your truck, I love you and I wish you a very happy birthday!
Okay, so I need to flesh out some of the stories and work on the transitions, and I’m totally going to lose my nerve on some of it, but we’ll call it a first draft anyway. What do you think? Too mean? Too nice? Constructive criticism is welcome. In fact, I’d be delighted if I woke up tomorrow morning to find a complete re-write in my comment box.
And of course, the real question is: What am I going to wear?!?