My father made a lot of sound a fury about the way he held down his end of the cul de sac on which we lived. He was the "fun dad." He was the one who dragged us all on our sleds behind the family station wagon. He was the one who, on the occasion of my twenty-first birthday, threw open the doors to our house and invited many of those same kids who he pulled all those sleds until their runners began to scrape the asphalt. Many of the people he served that night were more than a few years shy of being twenty-one themselves. It still gives my mother shivers. In another time, like now, he would have been arrested.
Instead, he was the "fun dad." Many a youngster came to my father to be humiliated in a game of ping pong. It was not a mystery why, once his own brood had left the nest, my dad went in search of his own lost youth. Not all the other dads on our street operated the way he did.
At one bend in the road, sat my friend Heidi's house. Her dad ruled through intimidation and fear. Not that he had ever done a single thing to deserve his reputation. Quite the opposite. There were plenty of kids on our street who had never heard him speak. I spent a good deal of time hanging on the edge of their world, but I can't remember a conversation of more than a dozen words. When I dropped by with my little black dachshund to go for a walk with Heidi and her little brown dachshund, he was always pleasant to me. His style was in stark contrast to my father's. Which probably meant that Heidi wasn't embarrassed nearly as often as I was. Except for that one time.
The herd of kids in our neighborhood moved up and down the street in a fairly fluid mass. Older brothers and sisters brought out their siblings and eventually there was a touch football contest or an epic game of capture the flag staged from one yard to the next. Sooner or later, there was a break as we decided what to do next. When that happened, there was a gathering of all those youngsters in somebody's driveway, and on this particular evening, we landed on Heidi's. There was a lot of good natured kidding and a bit of verbal abuse that rose above the school yard standard. This was the way we established dominance and our pecking order. This went on for half an hour or so, and as dusk came, Heidi's dad opened up his front door. To pick up the evening's newspaper. That was all. The driveway and front lawn emptied in a flash.
As a father myself, I really envy that power. As you might expect, my own parental style skews toward that of my own dad. But every so often, I wish I had the power to clear a driveway or front porch. My son's friends just laugh. Your dad's so funny.
Heidi's dad was too, as it turned out. He didn't make a show of it. Later on, about the time I was in college, I realized that there was a very wry, sardonic sense of humor hidden inside there. It wasn't on display for everyone. Just those close enough to appreciate that occasional sideways glance and telltale smirk.
And now he's gone. The man who commanded respect simply by stepping out on his stoop to pick up his paper has moved on to that big cul de sac in the sky. Somebody else will have to hold down that corner. Heidi's dad never stomped on the Terra. He didn't have too. What a clever guy. Aloha.