The following was read onstage at "You're Being Ridiculous" at Mary's Attic in Chicago on November 16th, 2013. The theme was heroes.
Host: Kelly Duff is a writer and Elmhurst native, where she lives with her husband Ryan. Before deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up, Kelly had a long career in Chicago radio and now works for the good hands people. When she's not working on her five novels, she's usually talking about her dogs, taking pictures of her dogs, posting about her dogs, managing her dogs' website and Facebook pages, and convincing her husband they could totally manage more dogs.
Super Dad by Kelly Duff
I’m the son my dad always wanted.
Obviously I’m not a boy and growing up, I wasn’t your typical girl thanks to a man who had Jackie Gleason’s brash swagger, Archie Bunker’s wisdom and Tony Soprano’s heart of gold...my dad.
My dad’s a Navy guy who worked in the service departments of car dealers through the 60‘s, 70‘s and 80’s. One of my earliest memories is me sitting in the front seat of his black Trans Am, the same one from Smokey & the Bandit with the t-tops and the gold bird on the hood, and my dad is the epitome of Burt Reynolds right down to the black cowboy hat and shiny jacket with “bandit” down his arm. The other reason why this is so memorable is because it’s the first time I get to experience what it’s like to get pulled over when you’re dad is clocked doing 90.
Since my dad worked in the car business, I inherited a lot of his knowledge, along with his taste in cars. There’s a part of me, the white trash part, that wants to buy a 1960’s muscle car. A GTO, or a Charger, or a Camaro. And then I’ll get a white t-shirt and I’ll roll a pack of cigarettes under the sleeve all cool like. And I’ll grease my hair back and cuff my jeans and...whoa, see what just happened?...see what I mean by the son he always wanted? Did I seriously just admit I wanted to be Danny Zuko?
Besides some obvious gender-confusion thanks to Dad, I can’t deny he’s been quite the influence in my life. For one, because of my dad, I love music.
When I was 8 years old, Dad sat me down in front of the stereo, put Pink Floyd’s The Wall on the turntable, and in not so many words, told me to be quiet and listen to this album because it will change my life.
Damn it, if he wasn’t right. I had no earthly clue what they were singing about on that album, I was 8 years old, but I guess I could understand the concepts. In essence, I understood the album to be about Pink. Not to be confused with female P-exclamation point-ink who wanted to get this party started in 2001 and now sings duets with the guy from the ironically named band fun-period. This Pink was a little boy who lost his father in the war. His overprotective mother was all he had, except when her new boyfriends would revolve in and out of Pink’s life. Pink was a poet, but the teachers didn’t like that and made fun of him, so he lost all respect for authority. Later in the album, when his own wife has an affair, Pink, now a rock star, slowly loses his mind until he has a mental breakdown.
At least that’s what my 8 year old mind got out of it. When Roger Waters wrote that rock opera album, I’m pretty sure he didn’t think he’d have such a young audience critiquing its symbolic imagery. But hey, man, if I hadn’t listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall at 8, I wouldn’t have written my very first play based on the music. I had it all figured out, which kids in my class would play which roles, and I’d bring the album to school so the teacher could play the soundtrack while they acted out the scenes. Then my mom put the kibosh on everything: they say the word balls in that one song, Kelly, you go to Catholic school, you do the math...
Well, no, that’s precisely why I can’t do math, Mother, it’s catholic school. 2+2=4 now that’s enough, lemme tell you about this jesus character.
Listening to music with my dad became “our thing”. We had a ritual: Dad would bring home some cool music - now remember kids, it was the 70‘s and 80‘s so sometimes cool was REO Speedwagon, sometimes it was progressive british rock from Supertramp, sometimes it was German electronica such as Kraftwerk, and sometimes it was Loverboy. We’d lay out a large crocheted blanket in front of the stereo that we coined the “magic carpet”. Dad would set up the album and I’d start studying the liner notes. Recently, I learned that at some point in this process, my dad would go out to the garage and smoke pot, then we’d listen to the music. And apparently my mom had no clue this was going on. And she was like a professional spy on all of us growing up, knowing every move we made. But yeah, “magic carpet” now makes a whole lot more sense to me.
My dad took me to my first concert - Genesis at the Rosemont Horizon. Back then tickets were $11.50 - roughly the price of a beer these days. The concert experience blew me away. And we saw everyone that came to town. The Police, Springsteen, Asia, The GoGo’s, Journey, Huey Lewis & the News, ZZ Top. I remember this one time we went to the Riviera to see OMD, the British new wave band known for their highly successful song “If You Leave” from the movie Pretty in Pink. I’m 15 and they’re serving me at the bar. So I’m ordering two drinks at a time, giving one to my dad. Needless to say, we both got in trouble when we got home that night.
But while most of my friends were fighting with or being ignored by their fathers, they were flocking to my house cuz I had the cool dad who’d take me and my girlfriends to see Duran Duran and Rick Springfield. I loved seeing my favorite songs played live, hearing the crowd get just as excited as I was. I still get goosebumps at the beginning of shows. I get a little teary-eyed when the first notes hit. It could be any band really. The Flaming Lips, Counting Crows, Nine Inch Nails...Barry Manilow. And despite the fact that now, at 43 years old, the whole idea of staying up late and dealing with the idiots who insist on standing around talking incessantly while the frickin band is right there playing the music I paid good money to listen to, I’ll always have a deep love and respect for live shows thanks to my dad.
My dad influenced my love of movies. Back in the 80’s, my dad got a Betamax machine that fell off the back of a truck and a “copy” of the movie Alien, that retailed at the video store for like, $100 or something outrageous like that. I watched it, loved it and immediately outlined my own movie about...aliens. It was perfect, I even had the props. I had these huge balloons left over from my birthday that I filled with water. I scattered them on the lawn but they wouldn’t stand up so I took a big bag of cotton out of the closet and surrounded the bottom of each balloon so they’d stand up just like the alien eggs in the movie. Then I realized, shit, we don’t own a movie camera, maybe Dad can make one fall off the back of a truck. My plan to make a movie quickly ended. But watching cool movies where shit blows up, monsters jump out and Freddy Krueger always finds you in your dreams, is still something we like to do.
Being a Navy guy, my dad loved boating, which was hard for him to do because my mom was basically agoraphobic and never wanted to go too far from our house. So sometimes, he’d have to hide his fun loving addictions, even the legal ones.
I’ll never forget the time my mom was snooping like a russian spy through my dad’s briefcase when she opens his checkbook. “Hey Fred?” My dad’s name is Fred. “What’s this mean in your checkbook? Boat payment?” She fingers the check register quickly. “There’s a lot of them. Boat payment. Boat payment. Boat payment.” My dad - “Oh yeah, we own a boat now?” See, my dad figured what the buzz kill didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. But as it turns out, Mom ended up loving the experience once we got her on the boat. Lucky for him.
As he’s gotten older, my dad’s lost any sense of filter he may have once had. My dad can make Archie Bunker looks like a humanitarian that’s actually tolerant of all races, creeds and gender. He’s been known to blatantly flirt with women, and by flirt I mean, make googly eyes while inviting them to live in his spare bedroom and clean his house because he loves women from “your country.” And really, are those not the words of love every Eastern European woman hopes to hear from the old guy sitting in the booth with his embarrassed daughter on Christmas Eve? I sometimes wish I had beat that one guy to the punch and published my own version of “Shit my Dad says”. I’d be a millionaire.
Now that my sister and I are adults, my dad likes to share stories with us that may scar us for life. There’s the one time when he was in the Navy when he went to Rock of Gibraltar and his fondest memory was taking a shit on the side of the mountain and the local wildlife of barbary macaques (aka monkeys) were laughing at him. Or the time he did lines of coke off the new Lincolns that just rolled into the showroom at the car dealer. You know, heart-warming stories?
This is gonna sound weird, but my dad loves Hitler. Okay, he doesn’t LOVE LOVE Hitler but because he was born about the time good old Adolph was in power, he tends to watch a lot of History Channel specials on World War 2. Specials that seems to run really early in the morning. Too early in the morning for my fuzzy brain to comprehend the leadership style of Der Fuehrer. But I’ll call my dad, and he’ll laugh into the phone, usually he says “did you know” then it’s followed with something about Hitler, then it’s “boy he was a crazy sumbitch.”
Now, like I said, over the years, we had a lot of possessions that may or may not have “fallen off the back of a truck”, and my dad may have a few friends in the Hell’s Angels, he may have had the habit of cleaning his guns whenever a new boyfriend would come to pick me up for a date, he may have given us an 8-ball as an engagement present - and it’s not the one you shake, ask a question and turn over to find the answer.
His heart was always in the right place. He never thought twice about selling his favorite possessions to put food on the table, or buy us a car, or pay for school. He’s sold his motorcycles, his boats, his cars, his snowmobiles - all things he loved. He always told us, and still admits it today, that his daughters were the most important people in his life. He put up with my mom’s weird idiosyncrasies and her family’s expectations, and for that alone he should be canonized.
My dad’s 74 now. He’s been a widower for 14 years and still hopes to find a woman equal to my mom but knows he probably won’t and she could never be replaced. He’s seen both his daughters get married, he’s enjoys my two furry dog kids a lot, he’s had a stroke and dealt with seizure disorder. He may still smoke a little weed now and then. And there are days, when I feel like I’m the parent, and he’s the child, and I get frustrated that things have changed as we’ve both gotten older. The path before us may be unknown, but I have to thank him for raising me to be who I am, and Daddy, I’ll always be here to ride the magic carpet with you.