Column: Father's Day reflections: Lucky to be a father


Here it is, Father’s Day again, my 48th as a son, 19th as a father. My neighborhood is unusually quiet for now, no mower sounds, no cigarette coughs, just Disneylike bird song in the trees, as if fathers are allotted a few more z’s on this day dedicated to them.

Our white cat is in ornithologist pose on the inside windowsill, ears cocked, head jerking left, right, up, down, as if entranced by a tennis match between battling baseliners, following the invisible bouncing ball of the birds’ musical notes, hoping to train its eyes on a tweeting target even though the window screen stands between him and a tasty treat. Sometimes the cat gets caught between the glass and the screen when it is agitated and stands and stretches and becomes all askew, and we have to rescue him from his frozen pose.

Because I am a father, I inherited this cat, its fur all white and plush, like the carpet an eccentric aunt never allowed us to walk on — with or without shoes. My son found it in a kitten-state one evening on the street. My son was with a girl. To impress her, he played the compassion card, scooping the cat into his car. The girl is no more, but the cat is still here in my house, even though my Romeo son, the date-night savior, doesn’t even allow the cat to curl on his lap.

The white cat’s name is Cash, named after “the man in black,” Johnny Cash, a decision made by my daughter who has reached the age to appreciate irony when naming pets.

Earlier this year, my son rescued a used book from a consignment shop and surprised me with it, a John Updike story collection, “My Father’s Tears,” for no other reason than he knows how much Updike means to me. The book has more than made up for the cat. Later today he will bring me a John Barth collection to read, with a note stating, “Need to read short story ”˜Lost in the Funhouse.’ It is the single greatest piece of short fiction ever written. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would come across such a gorgeously brilliant piece of work.” I am a proud pop.

From my daughter’s bedroom, a song endlessly loops while she sleeps. I’ve heard this song play from her room for scores of nights — she will soon turn 14. I don’t know its name. It is predominantly piano, with a bit of orchestra at the start and finish, a classical/lullaby hybrid. I time it with my wristwatch. It lasts about three minutes. It has repeated itself 200 times since her blond hair hit the pillow last night. Her sleep depends on this song, an auditory addiction first inflicting her as a jazzy toddler with Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” which likely repeated a quarter-million times in her bedroom before the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” CD actually wore out. There is not a happier song than “Linus and Lucy.”

My daughter is music. We actually named her after a song, “Delaney Talks to Statues,” by Jimmy Buffett. I dread when, in a few short years, Delaney is no longer on the other side of that bedroom door sentenced to sweet slumber by her sandman’s song.

In the kitchen, her Father’s Day French toast awaits. I make it with actual French bread and top it with sliced strawberries formed into a smile. Two blueberries serve as eyes. Powdered sugar dusts it like snow. She’s too old for this breakfast display now, maybe, but I will continue this practice until there is protest instead of what I interpret as silent acceptance. Her hot tea is ready, too. I have boiled and steeped for her since she was 3. The teapot rasps, steams and screams, our kitchen scented with Aunt Jemima and Earl Grey.

Later in the day, I will find a Father’s Day card from both of them with Snoopy on it. They know I’m an old softy when it comes to Snoopy.

Part of my Father’s Day morning is spent worrying about what to get my own father for Father’s Day. I used to spend a lot of time lost in such thought until he started regifting me things I had gotten him — a fancy lawn chair, a hammock. He kept the bicycle, though. I think he is insulted by gifts that insinuate he sits or lies around a lot. I decide on scratch-off lottery tickets, for he likes games of luck. If he wins big, maybe he’ll regift me with some of the winnings. He’s good at that.

Sitting under this shade tree, before the neighbors’ bored dogs start barking and garage doors awaken with a clamorous clack, I reflect on my great luck — lucky still to have a father to buy Father’s Day gifts for; lucky to have a son who relates to me through reading; lucky still to be in a time when the teapot whistles, the French toast shares a strawberry smile and the same song slips through the cracks of a closed bedroom door.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read (and sing) For Food Players will perform at Ferdinand Branch Library at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 18. Admission is a monetary donation or gently used books for the Friends of the Library. If it doesn’t rain, this will be an outdoor show; bring a lawn chair.

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