I was ‘buddy’. Buddy was also my uncle’s old dog, but to my dad, I was buddy.
“Buddy, go get your glove and let’s play catch.” “Buddy, you need to sweep the patio and pick up the dog pooh and clean out the litter box.” “Come outside and wash the car with me before the ‘Niner game, buddy.”
That lasted until I was about six. The chores lasted long after that, but me being ‘buddy’ ended one night; a night that was not unlike any other.
My dad worked a typical office job, which meant he was gone before I woke up to go to school and he came home around dinner time. So besides the weekends, the evenings were when we could do stuff. Model cars, homework help, Entertainment Tonight–regular stuff. But since mom woke me up and got me ready for school, dad was charged with bringing me to bed and tucking me in.
Teeth brushed and PJs on, typically at nine o’clock I was ready to go to bed. Really I was ready to watch Home Improvement, but nine o’clock was bedtime and at nine o’clock started the going-to-bed routine. I’d kiss my mom goodnight, say goodnight to the nicer of our two dogs and then look toward my dad. He’d already be up and waiting for me at the other end of the living room.
To get the best running start I would back myself up as far against the opposite wall as I could. In my head I was mimicking every cartoon run-up I had ever seen, backing up one, two, three steps more, seeking purchase on the Berber carpet like a bull seeing red.
–“Come on, buddy. Bedtime. I’m ready for you.”
And he was. In ‘ready position’. Just like he was ready to field a hard grounder at third base, he was there waiting for me.
This truly was my favorite part of going to bed. One last burst of energy. One last little game. One small ritual I could count on doing every night, just me and my dad.
The gun would go off in my head. I’d be off, running the 100m dash in the Olympics, or I’d be Jerry Rice off the line of scrimmage running a fly pattern. (I must admit, I covered the 17 feet from one end of the living room to the other pretty well for short-legged, large-headed little dork.) Scurrying across the living room would sometimes rile up the dogs and scare the cat out of the room. But dodging animals was part of the fun. At the last moment before collision I’d jump into my dad’s arms; I’d flail about as he flung me onto his back.
One last ‘good night’ to mom and off we’d march to my room.
I’d have my arms around his neck and he’d feign inability to carry me the whole way because “I was getting so big”. I remember his prickly beard on my arms. I remember his attempts at tickling my feet; attempts that were little more than grabbing my big toe and shaking. I remember his sour, pungent B.O. that was weakly propped up by the undertones of a 14-hour-old spritz of Polo Original.
Finally we’d make it to my room and he’d fling me into bed as I desperately tried not to be shaken off. There’d be a little tussle, a laugh, an exaggerated grunt, a squeal.
Typically, that would be the end of the story. But that night something else happened.
My father was closing the door and turning off the light.
–“Good night, buddy”.
–“Wait, dad. I don’t want you call me ‘buddy’ anymore.”
–“‘Buddy’s’ a kid’s name. I’m too big for that now. From now on how ’bout you call me ‘bud’?”
–“OK. You got it. Good night, bud.”
That’s when it happened. I finished my metamorphosis into a big kid. And I have been one ever since.
My father wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t even close, really. But seeing how things have turned out, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Sure he caused pain and suffering and many more negative nouns, yet, here we are. Stronger from the deep emotional cuts that have since scarred over. Better from the experience, more honest, more courageous, and with a better view of how this world can swing us from desperation to elation in one simple rotation.
I don’t have to work at remembering the shitty stuff that we went through with my dad. But I do have to work at keeping the good memories from fading away. This is especially more important to me now as I undergo yet another metamorphosis, the one where I turn into a father myself.
I am happy to report that I have sired a turnip-cum-bell pepper and in the coming weeks our little creation will be the size of a grapefruit. Exotic, I know. I am looking forward to fatherhood. The good, the bad, the smelly. But most of all I am looking forward to the adventure, the new experiences, learning and growing up more. And best of all, pretty soon I’ll have someone to clean out the litter box.
[image courtesy of bestinseason.ie]