Mother’s Day celebrations were easy at our house. My brother and I would get up early, make a valiant attempt at fixing mom breakfast in bed and exult in her surprise. Afterward, we’d repair to the living room to watch cartoons while mom ate. She’d appear a while later with a perfectly clean plate and a smile. We were thrilled. Although, in retrospect, the dog’s breath did smell suspiciously like raw bacon and burnt toast.
Father’s Day obligations were not so easily met. It was the one day of the year we understood the dark Dickensian tales of innocent boys press-ganged into the navy. Because every Father’s Day while we went to the cottage for a day of boating and fishing; what we really got was a day of scrubbing, painting and polishing.
Never one to brood, I eventually got into the spirit of the occasion. “Rrrr. Have you ever been to sea, Jacob?”
Jay was not amused. That year he was sixteen and would much rather have spent the day with his girlfriend. “This isn’t the sea, it’s a lake!”
“Avast me hearties. Hoist the mainsail, grab your halyards and trim the tiller,” I cried.
“This is a power boat. There are no mainsails, halyards or tillers.”
“I’m Raymond the sailor man. Ach, ach, ach,” I sang out wishing I had a pipe.
By now even dad was annoyed. “Quiet on board. Get that deck swabbed!”
When mom brought out the potato salad and lemonade, we finally got a break from our impressments. It was time for Father’s Day gifts.
Keeping with the nautical theme Jay gave Dad a yachting cap. I gave him some Old Spice. I always did. In fact, by the time I was eleven, aftershave bottles were literally cascading out of the bathroom cabinet.
“Why are you giving dad Old Spice?” Jay inquired that morning. “He’s got plenty.”
“Anyone who has that much Old Spice must love it! Otherwise why would he have that much?” I answered.
“That’s ‘tautological’ and ‘specious’ reasoning,” a bemused Jay smiled.
“Yes,” I replied. “We get ‘taught logic’ after recess and I bet we’ll catch all kinds of ‘specious’ of fish this afternoon.”
After a day of servitude we were decommissioned just in time to go out for dinner. Dad, disgusted by hippies, beatniks and revolutionaries; made sure I was properly attired. My shirt collar was freshly starched and the tie so uncomfortably tight, I was sure it contravened the Geneva Convention. But my father was intractable.
Pulling at my collar I asked, “Dad, what have you got against the counter-culture?”
“You just make sure you don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink. That’s all the counter-culture you need.”
Looking back, he was probably right.
Dad’s been gone for years now. But I still miss him as Father’s Day approaches. With only nine shopping days left, I hope you’ll find your father a gift he’ll cherish this year.
May I suggest Old Spice?
— Ray Smit is a regular humour and political columnist for The News