There are potato chip crumbs all over the rug, and I think about how brave Dad is not to care about the mess he’s making.
Amazing. I’m afraid to make Mom mad like that. She’d come and get at me with a switch behind my knees.
Dad’s not afraid. He is taking his time on the Soul Express. It’s that radio show he likes where the deejays yell and blow whistles all the time.
“It’s time for the Mighty 1090, Dee Dee!” And he just goes with it. He’s all over everything, not just the chips. Plates and comic books left on the rug by my brothers get stepped on. The newspaper and my sister’s cut-outs, too.
It’s like he’s in a dream.
Mom is away doing her job at the hospital. I watched her leave in the pinkish-gray uniform and her “stand all day” shoes.
Dad works at night as a janitor. He cleans the junior high school and his picture is even in my sister’s school yearbook. And he is the best looking one of all the men who make that school shine. No one is better looking than my dad. No one. I read all the way through that yearbook. No, not even the principals and teachers.
It is December and the first weekend of Christmas vacation from school. Dad is at home and awake, and, because it is Saturday, he won’t get drunk until later. He is wearing that brown V-neck pulled over his light-green turtleneck sweater. It’s my favorite thing for him to wear.
“Look out! Mist’o is comin’ and goin’!” He dances across the rug, his right arm out to the side, and his left hand across his belly, acting like he’s holding a fine woman real close.
Here he comes my way. I’m up against the side of the hi-fi with a cup of Kool-Aid and my cat book.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell start singing, and Dad says, “It’s my man! Turn it up!” He moves quickly to the hi-fi and fills the room with the song.
I begin to sing along. “Ain’t nu-thin’ like the real-thing-bay-beh.” Eyes closed, fingers snapping, rocking side to side.
“Stand up, girl!” I look up and he’s grinning. I love his mustache. It’s like those black fuzzy worms that turn into butterflies.
I jump up and take his hands. I place my feet upon his. He holds me up and stomps around as we sing the duet.
“I got your picture hangin’ on the wall
It can’t see or come to me when I call your name
I realize it’s just a picture in a frame.”
He makes silly faces at me when it’s my turn to sing, and I try not to laugh so I can do a good job.
“I got some memories to look back on
And though they help me when you phone
I’m well aware nothing can take the place of being there.”
The song ends and I step off his feet. “You are good, girl,” he says. I tell him his voice is better than Marvin Gaye’s, and he laughs. He goes off to the kitchen, his body moving to the radio’s beat. I sit back into my resting place and think about being on TV.
When he returns, Dad has a can of beer in his hand. “Dee Dee, get something and clean up the rug before your mama gets home.” He turns, opens the backyard door, and I don’t see him again until dinnertime.
Dad tells us he’s going to see a movie with our neighbor friend Tex. His eyes are shiny and I wonder if he hurt himself again. Mom looks mad.
He winks at me before he closes the door.
Right then I make up my mind to be a singer when I grow up. I tell Mom and she says that Dad isn’t coming back.
That’s OK. I’ll tell him in the morning.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12).
On Writing: The first memory that came to my mind this Father’s Day weekend was this one, and I realized I had never shared it in writing. I decided to write the story in first person, present tense, as a way to give in to my imagination. This version is a mixture of fact and fiction. I wanted to be ten-year-old Dee Dee — Dad’s nickname for me — living out this moment that has stayed with me to this day. Whenever I hear the song, I think of my dance with Dad, but I also think about how, shortly afterward, he left the family.
Read this post to see how we reconnected in his final days.
If you’ve never heard the song and want to take a listen, click here.