Ode to Dino: Happy Father’s Day to All You Nerdy Dads!
June 17, 2011 27 Comments
My dad is 79-years-old and currently traveling through his ancestral home town—Castelvetere— in Northern Italy. My mom, who struggles with arthritis pain and heart issues, decided to take a pass on Dad’s latest inspiration to find his parents’ childhood homes. He found the ancient housing structures still standing on Google Maps and the wheels started spinning. Mom decided to take advantage of a week free from her groovy retired life with Dad and travel with her sister to world-renown Rancho La Puerta Spa in Tecate, Mexico to work on her mind/body/spirit connection and give vegetarian living a whirl. Having my two (dare I say it?) “elderly” parents on different continents is…unsettling. Because of iPhones and time zones my sisters and I have been in touch with Auntie and Mom, but until today, day five, Dad has been incommunicado.
Armed with his brand new iPad, I anticipated at least a quick message on Dad’s first day or two. Turns out the iPad is rendered useless in the mountainous province of Benevento (which translated means “good wind,” significance to come later in this piece) and he’s had to resort to archaic methods to communicate, including dial-up. That’s what my dad gets for jetting off to remote Italian towns in search of Antonellis, Morettis, DiPieros and LaMarcas (yes, I am 100% Italian!). Thinking of my dad farther away than a tap on my Favorites list got me thinking about…me and Dad, back in the day, back at MY ancestral home in Saratoga,CA.
My parents still reside in the childhood home where my sisters and I were raised. Dad survived one woman, three girls who eventually became women, three female dogs, 2 female hamsters (Peaches and Tangerine…good Lord, were we running a hamster brothel with those names?), a female chinchilla (wicked bitchy animal) and one androgynous Dutch bunny named Fluffy, who after two years appeared to have grown an…ahem…appendage. Only the goldfish had a 50% chance of sharing the male experience with Dad. Unfortunately, after only a short time at the Antonelli household, the presumably male gill-breather flung himself from the tank. He was found glassy-eyed and clammy propped atop a stiff heap of orange shag carpet in the middle of my sister’s room, barely clearing her collection of Andy Gibb 45s.
So, to say Dad had his challenges in a house full of mascara, tube tops and estrogen is an understatement. Some mornings the volume of our sisterly arguments over the curling iron surpassed the cacophony of the usual phone ringing and Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” belting from the mixed tape on our boom box. Dad would charge out of his room at the end of the hall donning nothing but skivvies, swearing like a Corleone. Though effective at quieting three divas, Dad’s outbursts usually supplied just enough morning humor to turn our demeanors from stubborn to silly as we’d giggle at the thought of Dad waving his arms at us in his Fruit of the Looms. This was all we needed to get back on task and apply our last coat of mascara, remove our hot rollers and scoot off to Lynbrook High in our sexy Ford Torino Squire wood-paneled wagon.
Other than the occasional explosion spurred by cutting Dad’s morning snooze short, I remember mostly an easygoing man who made it a point to know all of our girlfriends, even the moody drama chicks. He’d say things like, “That little Tracy…she doesn’t talk much; she didn’t even laugh when I did ‘Pull My Finger’ for her. Who doesn’t love a good fart joke?” (Ahhh…Benevento: good wind!) I’d feign shock when his nerdiness and jokes took center stage with my friends, but secretly I loved his predictable humor, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t hide my laughter.
Dad worked long days as an engineer at a Silicon Valley company, but usually made it home in time for family dinners. Both of my parents were ahead of their time when it came to healthy eating. Mom didn’t allow store-bought cookies, candy, processed snacks, etc. and Dad frowned upon all fast food, soda and sugary treats. Meals were fresh and tasty, especially the Italian and Spanish-inspired dishes. Dad would kiss mom as he quickly entered through the kitchen door, power-walk to his closet to remove his tie then take a seat at the head of the table. He’d talk about his day and all the colorful characters at work. I knew who was an asshole and who was an idiot and who Dad admired. I’m lucky I never actually met these men and women; the characters I created from Dad’s animated descriptions were priceless and perfectly safe in my imagination. We’d talk about pop culture, politics, the Cold War, gas prices, Dad’s involvement in the Beyond War organization. Funny how conversation is not too different at the table today. He’d ask about Mom’s day, our sports, dance, music, and he’d get the lowdown on the kid gossip, which never seemed to bore him. Here are a few lessons I carried from those Antonelli family rituals:
1) When it’s cold in the house you can put on a sweater or put some socks on those damn feet
2) Leftovers are delicious and fresh tin foil is a luxury
3) You can heat all of Oakhaven Drive just by leaving the front door of our house open
4) You can go back to school in the fall with only one new pair of shoes and JC Penney “Dittos” knockoffs and still have friends
5) You cannot effectively wash a1959 VW Bug ragtop when you’re fiddlydickin’ around with your sister
My favorite stories Dad would tell were his childhood buddy stories from Buffalo, New York. One rings a bell and may have something to do with Dad’s eventual sidestepping from the Catholic Church. Dad grew up with a gaggle of Irish boys in Buffalo, many of whom attended Catholic school. My grandparents couldn’t afford private school for Dad so he went to public, but hung out with his buddies and eventually got to know the nuns by name. One afternoon he and his best friend were looking at nudie photographs (gasp!) and Dad tucked one in his back pocket with the intention of hiding it in his room later. With the sun drooping in the Buffalo sky, Dad sprinted up the block toward his house. As he rounded the corner, who but Sister Catherine was standing in the street calling, “Dino!”? Dad said he was shaking and sweating and stuttering, certain that the woman in his pocket would burn a whole right through his pants with her stark nudity and expose her sinful self to Sister Catherine. Turns out Sister was simply waving hello, making small talk. Nothing that a few Hail Marys in the confessional couldn’t fix!
I joke about Dad’s goofy quirks (believe me, he tossed it right back at us!), but I wouldn’t have changed a moment of it: Backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, skiing in hand-me-down snow overalls with flattened salami sandwiches on sprouted wheat bread in our pockets, camping across America on our 1976 family adventure in our Royal Blue VW Bus. Dad cranked that sucker across the whole country to Washington D.C. while we sang along to ABBA on the 8-track and played Hangman, attempting to keep my middle sister from puking out the window. As if it weren’t authentic enough, we had a CB Radio in the bus. Our handle was Blue Box. There we were: three prepubescent and (in my oldest sister’s case) pubescent girls chatting up truck drivers from the Blue Box. There was Dad in his sleeveless t-shirt, his McEnroe-style 70s tennis shorts and his tube socks driving alongside the big rigs honking his horn, munching on a green apple and drinking his Budweiser roadie (only one while driving!).
Happy Father’s Day, Dad…LOVE, julie