Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Entry 141: Dad, And Other Reasons I'll Never Be Normal

Those of you who have read my dad's blog from Afghanistan have probably already detected that much of my insanity is hereditary. While I'm sure some of this is merely the result of genes that spent one too many weekends in Vegas, I think a large part of the similarity between dad and I is the fact that I was raised a bit... different.  And by different I mean a childhood of him amusing himself at my expense.  You're seeing a pattern, right?

Dad, like me, has always been a thrill seeker and likes to keep himself busy with fun and adventurous activities.  When I was only four years old or so, he decided to take me to a local amusement park, Adventureland, for a day of quality father-son bonding.  Some parents in this situation would take their children on the safe, age-appropriate rides intended for the delicate physical frames of developing youngsters.  Not dad.  Instead he tried to sneak me onto the most dangerous, scary, and likely-to-break-down rides in the park.  In particular, I have a vivid and terrifying memory of him convincing me to "stay quiet" while he got me past the attendant for the fastest coaster in the park, The Tornado. 

I was far too small to be contained by the lone, flimsy lap bar that held people in (ostensibly), so I remember dad having to sort of push me back down as I flew up from my seat several times.  I also remember him having a great time on the coaster while I screamed, cried, and probably peed myself.  I think of this incident every time a would-be parent laments that having kids means giving up your own fun.  Yeah, ask my dad about that.

One thing I remember enjoying were the times when dad drove my brother and I to school.  These trips were extra fun because, other than a lawnmower or a Harley, dad picked the vehicle least suited to transporting a group of people: a tiny green pickup truck with a stick shift.  Since we lived in Iowa, it was almost always winter and/or raining which meant that we were not only packed into the tiny cab of a truck, but were also bundled up in our cold weather clothes with our backpacks on our lap.

Adding insult to injury, we usually stopped at the gas station for "breakfast."  Before you report my unnecessary quotations, let me assure you that our gas station breakfast consisted of long johns, coffee, and my brother's infamous "burnt hot dog with way too much relish and mustard on it for this early in the morning" feast.  We would rock along in the little truck (running late, of course), my brother leaking relish onto his clothes and my dad drinking coffee, smoking, shifting, talking on the phone, listening to the radio, steering, and reading the newspaper.  I think it was around this time that I acquired much of my disregard for personal safety.

Luckily dad held not only a healthy skepticism for "things that might harm me," but also for any sense of shame or embarrassment he might inflict on me or my brothers.  For instance, one day he decided to take us into town to the mall for haircuts.  Granted, we needed a trim, but I still feel that he could have changed out of his hip waders and into some jeans first.

Despite these types of behaviors, dad has always been a kind of hero to me.  In fact, for a while he literally was a superhero.  Probably one you've never heard of, either.

Me: "Dad, what do you do at work?"

Dad: "Why, I sign contracts for the Government!"

Me: "What's that?  And... you just sign stuff?"

Dad: "Important stuff!  I'm contracting man!"    *mimes trumpet blast*

Me: "What stuff do you sign?  Checks?  Papers and stuff?"

Dad: "Stuff?  No, son.  Important things!  Wherever there's a need for bridges to guide hungry travelers across a river to the market, or when hungry babies are stuck in a tree, or when kittens have no milk- a contract needs SIGNED!  And there I am, contracting man and his trusty pen, to the rescue!"

Me: "Yeah, but-"

Dad: "Never fear, children!  Contracting man will save the day!  [at this point he ignores me and launches into what can only be described as an impromptu one-man play] 

[falsetto child's voice] "Oh no! Timmy is stuck in the well and no one is here to sign the contract that allows Federal dollars to be obligated towards his rescue! Who will help us?!

*sings dramatic entrance music with accompanying dance, then leaps dramatically from the third stair to the floor, hands bravely at his hips*

[dramatic superhero voice] "Have no fear, children!  *I'll* sign that contract!"  *brandishes imaginary pen*

[child's voice] "Oh yay!  Contracting man is here with his pen to save the day! Hoorayy!"

*strides around the living room, signing imaginary contracts.  Occasionally uses the pen to word of blows from an imaginary ne'er-do-weller*
[superhero voice]  Here you are, Timmy!  Safe and sound, thanks to the sound fiscal responsibility inherently added to the clausal language of that contract!"

[timmy's voice- suspiciously like the younger sibling on Old Yeller] "Gee thanks mister!  I wasn't sure if I was *ever* gonna get outta that well!"

[superhero voice] "Well you're safe now!  And always remember kids, never allow anyone but an approved government-designated representative to commit funds on behalf of your government!"

[child's voice] "We will, contracting man! Thank you!  You saved the day again!  Yayyy!!!"

[superhero voice] "That's right, kids, whenever terror strikes at your heart or evil seems on cusp of total victory, just call for contracting man to save the day!"  

[child's voice]  "Thank you contracting man! You're our hero!!"

*mimes flying off into the sky, sings theme from Superman, sheathes imaginary pen as he points his arm out and flies out of the room*

Dad retired his pen and cape and left the world of contracting over 15 years ago, but I was reminded of "Contracting Man" recently because he went back to work for the Government in February.  He volunteered for a civilian deployment to Afghanistan, ostensibly for "contracting-related work," but the DAY he got in country was the DAY Bin Laden was killed.  He's been pretty hush-hush about it, but an email he sent me that day *did* contain a winky-face.  So, you know, draw your own conclusions.

I wanted to post this for dad's birthday on June 4th, or maybe on father's day June 19th, but one thing dad always taught me was never do what "normal" people do.  Hence, it's up today!  Here's to all the fathers out there, whether they know it or not.

Caleb "Yeah, you can read what you want into that last sentence" Shreves

PS Condolences to Becky, whose house was broken into last night.  They stole her coffeemaker, people.  Her COFFEEMAKER.  What kind of sick world is this?