Vignettes Of Fatherhood: My Father, My Sons, & Me

Remembering My Father

My Dad (shown at the far right in the above, blurry wedding picture) was not the guy who told jokes that featured an Irishman, a rabbi, and a camel going into a bar. He never responded to the monthly Reader’s Digest offer to pay $300 for an amusing anecdote. Nor did he have a repertoire of homespun stories featuring his family and friends behaving in outrageously funny ways. I do not recall him once cracking wise, engaging in jocose repartee, proffering a pun, uttering a mot, or pulling a gag. He was not one to put others at risk for having their sides split, ribs tickled, or knees slapped. My dad and I never had philosophical discussions. He didn’t teach me how to sail, take me for long rambles in the woods, or give me advice about women. He was, in fact, somewhat taciturn in general, especially compared to the stereotyped used car dealer.1

Still, he did have his moments.

My father had little use for parties or, indeed, social functions of any kind that involved anyone other than his immediate family. Nevertheless, from the time I was five and for several years afterward, he and my mother maintained a standing date every Saturday night to play canasta with another couple, who had a son and a daughter about the same ages as my brother and me.

The progression of events each Saturday was invariable. After dinner, our family would drive to the friends’ home whereupon the adults would settle into a few hours of card playing and conversation while the children from the other family, my brother, and I would play whatever indoor or outdoor games were in fashion at the time. Later, the card game would be temporarily halted while massive quantities of popcorn, liberally anointed with salt and butter, were produced and consumed. The adults would then return to their game while the kids would gather in the living room to watch TV. Typically, we would all would be asleep not long after Wrestling From Chicago International Amphitheatre With Russ Davis began.

What I recall most vividly and distinctly, however, is what happened next: I remember partially awakening as my father lifted me from the back seat of the car, carried me, more asleep than awake, in his arms into our home, and put me to bed.

Originally posted June 20, 2010 at, a predecessor of


My Father’s Influence On My Choice Of Career

In addition to these standard reasons to choose medicine as a vocation, there were a couple of other compelling factors.

1. My draft lottery number was #19, a ranking that offered me the opportunity to supplement my knowledge of iambic pentameter, my expertise in reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English, and my insight into the overvaluation of Baudelaire’s influence on T.S. Eliot with the ability to field-strip an M-16 and wade through chest-high swamp water in Viet Nam. There was, I admit, an allure to the notion of learning the doctoring trade while indefinitely deferring the chance to be all that I could be. (I was never clear on the benefits of being all that I could be if that included being a target for enemy snipers or a preferential host for intestinal parasites indigenous to southeast Asia.)

2. When my father asked me what I intended to do with my life, I replied with my whim du jour, “I’ll go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in English Literature.” My father’s next question, spoken without a trace of irony, was, “OK, how much does that graduate school job pay?” In the ensuing conversation, he offered to pay for my future schooling if it eventuated in a medical or law degree. (My dad, by the way, was a unsuccessful farmer who built an impressively profitable business buying used cars in Michigan and wholesaling them to dealers in Missouri and Oklahoma; I suspect he knew I didn’t have what it took to follow in his footsteps – although it remains my contention that I could have handled the failed farmer bit.) As it turns out, there was a substantial gap between his definition “pay for my future schooling” and my interpretation of that concept, but by the time that difference was evident, I was ensconced in my first year of medical school.

Originally posted May 2, 2006 as How MrGuy Became DrGuy
at, a predecessor of


Modern Fatherhood, Circa 1990: My (Very) Long Weekend With Prodigal & Link

When Prodigal was three, Julie2 (then better known by her slave name, “Mom”) was in charge of the business side of my group psychiatric practice. I had arranged for her, as part of her job, to attend a three day customer service workshop Disney offered in Orlando. Two days before she was scheduled to leave, an unmistakable, full-blown case of chicken pox erupted, covering approximately 100% of Prodigal’s body.

In the 48 hours after a visit to the pediatrician confirmed our diagnosis, plans were reconsidered, rearranged, aborted, rescheduled, and shuffled numerous times, but the final decision was that we would stick with the original notion: she would go to the Disney conference, and I would stay home with the urchin.

Over the ensuing three days (Friday and the weekend), I was intrigued to discover that the varicella virus reacted synergistically with Prodigal’s lifelong hypersensitivity to any environmental or psychological irritant to produce massive agitation, profound despair, and temper tantrums.

And it caused problems for the kid, too.

I fortuitously found, however, that the offspring could be seduced into a contented quiescence of focused attention by ensconcing him on my lap and playing The Legend of Zelda3 on my Christmas gift from friends, a machine officially designated the “Nintendo Entertainment System” but universally called “a Nintendo,” because in those days it was, pragmatically, the only gaming console known to the teeming masses.

Consequently, when not sleeping, eating, applying lotion to his lesions, or otherwise caring for the necessities of day to day life, Prodigal and I spent the entire period of his mother’s absence piloting Link (the hero of the game) through his adventures, completing the requisite tasks late Sunday evening, after which we switched to our only other game, Mario Brothers, which was a distant second to Legend of Zelda in Prodigal’s preferences but nonetheless acceptable.

By the time Julie returned, the chicken pox symptoms had subsided, and our child was again manageable without electronic assistance.

OK, some kids have memories of the first time Dad took them fishing or to a major league baseball game while Prodigal and I have mutually fond memories of playing a primitive version of a video game. But, if Norman Rockwell had been hanging around our house that weekend, there is an excellent chance that the cover of Life magazine would have featured an incredibly cute three year old on his father’s lap participating in that all-American activity – video gaming.


Originally posted July 8, 2007 as My (Very) Long Weekend With Prodigal & Link
at, a predecessor of


Modern Fatherhood, Circa 2000: The Dirty Joke Didactic


I find myself once again playing the bumbling paternal figure in another scene from the forthcoming movie, “No One Told Me That About Single Parenthood.”

This past week I realized that both my sons were laughing loudly but awkwardly, as 14 and 12 year olds are wont to do, at jokes by Robin Williams that played between songs on the “Good Morning Vietnam” soundtrack. And, indeed, a careful query or two revealed that they knew the lines were supposed to be funny but had not a clue why that might be so.

I was then faced with the choice of allowing them to remain naive or instructing them in the art of appreciating the sort of soft-core double entendres as practiced by Mr. Williams. I chose the more active option (well, this wouldn’t be much of a story if the point was that I elected to do nothing). In any case, I spent 20 minutes defining terms and explaining the context that transforms mysterious lines like “[She has] gone down on everything except the Titanic” and Q: “Where are you stationed [in Vietnam]” A: “I’m stationed in Poontang” into high jocularity.

This fatherhood thing is a puzzler.

Originally posted August 21,  2007 as Mining The Mail
at, a predecessor of


  1. Of course, other than the fact that he undeniably bought and sold used cars, he had so little in common with the caricatured image of a fast-talking, sharkskin suit-wearing, fast-and-loose-dealing predator hustling suckers into buying wrecks at inflated prices that the comparison itself is misleading. My father preferred overalls, never slapped a back literally or figuratively, and had a reputation for honesty such that auctioneers at auctions limited to dealers would routinely note when he was the owner of the automobile on the block as a certification of the accuracy of the information they offered about the car, a tactic I never heard associated with another dealer in the eight years of car auctions I reluctantly attended. []
  2. Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ. []
  3. For gaming aficionados, the game we played was the first version of Legend of Zelda []

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