Sunday, June 19, 2016

How to Build a Bill-Baggott Father in 12 Not-so-Easy Steps

(On the Occasion of Father's Day)

1. Raise the boy among women.
It's best if he's born in Brooklyn -- to get a feel for the city -- but set him loose in the mountains of West Virginia. It's hard, yes, if he loses his father while young -- the trauma might cause him to stutter for years -- but he will be raised among women -- his mother, his old-maid aunt, and two sisters. And although the loss is profound, this might be the best way a man of his generation could be raised. The loss will make him sweet and thankful to be alive. He'll show emotion easily -- acts of bravery will make him cry but so will the weepy parts of The Parent Trap, starring Lindsey Lohan. In the 80s, he'll be the only corporate lawyer who loves sensitivity training.

2. Give him some mountains and uranium tank-fields to play in. Let him grow up among coalminers and glassblowers without any money.
He'll learn how to sneak into things without paying -- a habit. He'll be the corporate lawyer shuttling his kids into a football game through a break in the chain-link fence.

3. Make it inevitable that he gets punched in high school for being a know it all. (He should also date triplets -- at least two of the three -- and play trumpet.)

This will inform the dining room where you grow up, where you'll learn to argue. The dining room table, your brother will later say, that he learned more there than in all his years of school.

And one day the know-it-all will be the lead researcher for his youngest daughter who starts writing novels that entail nanotechnology and Domes and airships and all the things he liked dreaming about as a kid. It'll be something that ties them together, where science meets dreaminess.

4. Have him push through a 5 year engineering program in 3 years then law school. First real job -- patent office in DC -- during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just plop him down at ground zero.

5. Have him fall in love with a redhead and marry her and have kids -- and always want more kids.
He'll be mistaken for a pediatrician a lot. He'll be the guy on the plane who offers to walk the screaming baby in the aisles so the mother flying alone can eat. Through all of his grandchildren, he'll become known as the baby whisperer. No one can get a baby to quiet like he can. He'll be able to take over the household of a family with five kids and run it smoothly while the parents are away. He's the one to call when the baby is sick and has to go in for an operation.

But way back, holding his first child, he should think, "If I died now, I'd have gotten more than my share."

6. Eventually, he should get political. He should take to the streets, protesting wars, with a baby in a stroller and eventually carrying one of his grandkids. He should be pro-civil rights are every turn. When his father in law gives him a German lugger as a gift, he'll take it home and dismantle it, hiding the parts in different places. He was once chased through the woods as kid by cops -- with their guns pulled.

7. In the National Guard, he should talk a man out of killing his wife. On a trip to Iran, he should save someone from choking.

8. Oh, and make him practice cheapness. He should make a lot of money -- why not? But he should downplay it because he's a little afraid of money. He grew up on Great Depression-era films where poor people were happy and the rich corroded. The youngest (who's kind of an idiot in her way) should think the family is so poor she can't bring herself to really fill out a Christmas list. Your father with his Velcro briefcase and Velcro sneakers should pay for two things freely: education and travel -- wait. One more, theater...

9. Have him write down every play he's ever seen on an index card held by a rubberband -- stacks and stacks.
And speaking of the arts, whenever his youngest daughter comes home from dance lessons, he should have her teach him the moves. He should be able to moonwalk pretty well, and he'll teach her the jitterbug in the kitchen. And, when he's retired, he'll learn to fly planes, self-diagnose a rare blood disorder, and take up modern dance in the Berkshires.

10. Have him search for his past -- all the way back to a dock in Chestertown, Maryland where his ancestor, a prisoner, was auctioned off. (He should get an Irish passport -- get a piece of that citizenship back.)

11. Have him sign off to raise all of the kids Catholic -- which he attends weekly, never taking Communion -- but have him answer the kids' questions honestly, what amounts to a small rebellion, a list of protests.

12. When his mother is in a nursing home, he should visit every night and feed her dinner, spooning in each bite -- long after she's stopped recognizing him. He should put her favorite old songs on a little tape recorder and she'll sing. Even in light of a 50-some year marriage to that redhead and the four kids and the 13 grandchildren, this is where he'll teach the most important lessons about love and devotion. And one day when he's watching a movie with his youngest and a little boy shines a mirror's reflected light on the wall to entertain the old man in bed, he'll say, "You'll do that for me one day." And the youngest will say, "Yes."