Cathy Hamilton: Not perfect, but still the best
June 24, 2010
We tend to canonize the dead, especially when they're family.
It's human nature to praise our dearly departed loved ones for all their wonderful qualities — ignoring the not-so-wonderful ones — until their eternal image is no less than perfect.
So, it was after the death of my father, over two years ago, when I eulogized him three different times in this space. He deserved it. He was a wonderful man, and a terrific dad.
But, he wasn't perfect. In fact, his imperfections were many.
Outwardly, he looked impeccable — a classically tall, dark and handsome physical specimen. At the annual father-daughter banquet in high school, my girlfriends swooned over him. He was, as they said in those days, a fox. A suave dresser (save the odd pair of lime green golf shorts), he cut a fine figure in his gray flannel suits and silk ties.
What people couldn't see — except the poor souls who saw him at the swimming pool — was that underneath the dashing Brooks Brothers exterior, an impossibly thick mass of hair covered his chest, back and arms.
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How bad was it, you ask?
Think wooly mammoth. Think Chia pet. Think King Kong.
(My mother would want me to note, at this point, that I'm exaggerating. But I'm not.)
"Dad, take your sweater off. It's 95 degrees!" we'd tease. "Put that mohair in mothballs where it belongs!"
Of course, manscaping wasn't de rigueur back then (not that Dad would've embraced the concept of waxing), so he had no choice but to bare his torso and listen to shrieks from the poolside.
His wiry coating never stopped his adoring kids from climbing onto his shoulders and diving into the deep end, over and over and over, until he was forced to escape the water with us clinging to this legs.
But, perfect? With that body rug? No.
My father was flawed in other ways, too. Take the area of home repair, for example.
Give him points for trying. Whenever something would go on the blink — lawn mower, TV, garbage disposal — he would always make a valiant attempt at repair. Pulling a wrench from the tool drawer (not a toolbox or garage wall, mind you, but a drawer that — coincidentally or not — was handily located in the wet bar), he approached the task at hand with determination.
Sadly, more often than not, his efforts culminated in a blizzard of profanity, a call to the professionals or, occasionally, a trip to the emergency room.
Like the time I was lying on the couch watching TV and his entire left leg came crashing through the ceiling above me. He was attempting to run a new antenna cable through the attic and his foot apparently missed the joist. (Note: He did not attempt to repair the ceiling himself.)
Another time, he tried to fix the garage door opener, forgetting to cut the power first, and ended up with 28 stitches in his middle and forefingers when the gears suddenly engaged, mangling his hand. (His surgeon noted the number of stitches was the same as his golf handicap.)
That brings us to another area of his inexpertise: the golf game. Legendarily bad. Or, as Dad might say, he was inconsistent. Which is surprising considering how much he played. He was intimately familiar with every inch of rough on the country club golf course.
Dad considered himself an athlete, and he was. Of sorts. In high school, he was discus champion, the best in … well, nobody's quite sure what.
He played intramural basketball in the Air Force, which, as my mother notes, was the first time she ever saw him run. Of course, even at 6'3", he couldn't play center because the poor guy had no ups.
"Lead feet, Cath," he'd say. "It's the family curse."
Which leads me to yet another chink in my dad's armor: his complete and utter refusal to hurry. Not that he was the habitually late type.
Surprisingly, he was most always prompt. He simply saw no need to hustle in order to, say, snag a good seat for graduation or get out of the rain. The man never broke a saunter. Drove my mom nuts.
The point is, my dad wasn't perfect. No dad is. And yet, we love them, anyway.
That's a good message to remember for the third Sunday in June, or any other day. Tell the dad in your life he may not be perfect. But, he's still the best.