It’s not necessarily the things you might imagine that would make me feel proud of my parents when I was a kid. The accolades that might turn heads in society had no real meaning for me. Earning promotions, being respected by colleagues, being at the top of one’s professional game — what does any of these mean to a five year old? This point is driven home by celebrities who share with interviewers that their young children are completely unfazed by their block busting box office successes and such. It would be later, after venturing further into the world, that I would have a basis for comparison and come to truly appreciate my parents’ gifts.
Even when I did recognize their talents, abilities or skills, I often imagined that everyone’s parents could do these things, and consequently deemed these outstanding capabilities to be commonplace. For instance, my mom had a dressmaking and alterations business that she operated from the mud-room-turned-sewing-shop behind our kitchen. Customers would come and go, quite pleased with services rendered, but I was somehow nonplussed. That she could create a very authentic Superman cape (for my brother) without so much as a pattern was just another run-of-the-mill, every day occurrence – no biggie. It was just what she did.
That my dad was able to do things like cut glass and mirrors and install these items for a plate glass company was just ho-hum. That he did precision barbering, could pen calligraphy, or was able to make his own fishing lures and lead sinkers – no biggie. I came to expect him to be able to craft things, repair things and remodel things. It’s just what he did.
Despite my handicapped perception, I was nonetheless proud of my parents. It boiled down to those things that were tangible and concrete, meaning that some rather unlikely things caused me to be impressed. For instance, the fact that my mom could draw a face on her index finger, then pull a hankie out of her purse, wrap it around that finger and do a little puppet show for us kids while we were waiting in the car with her – now THAT was captivating. Or that she could sketch a portrait of my dad reading a book while sitting across the dining table from him and wind up with a very close likeness – now THAT was dazzling.
I mentioned in an earlier post (“Hey, Mr. Snyder, about those pants”) that I was proud of the fact that my dad was the president of the PTA when I was in first grade, and also of my parents’ performance in several skits in a comedy revue that year. This might have been the early stages of my seeing them in a larger context, noticing how other adults regarded them. That they were involved at my school and that teachers and other parents thought well of them – now THAT was appealing.
In addition, there were the cool smoke rings that my dad could blow, which flat out mesmerized me as a kid. Impressive. But at the very top of my list, Numero Uno, was the fact that my dad was trained as a…
Civil defense police officer.
For some reason, his role in this capacity absolutely intrigued me. He had been issued a navy blue wool uniform, complete with brass buttons, epaulets, hat, shiny badge, whistle and night stick. The ensemble hung in the hall closet in a dry cleaners bag, and every so often I would open the closet door and just look at it. And my heart would swell. While I never actually got to see him function in his role — he would leave the house fully dressed to perhaps go help manage heavy traffic following some big event downtown or provide crowd control at a parade — for some reason, his service in this capacity seemed very important to me. My dad was a policeman; I was proud.
One day my first grade teacher asked us to let our parents know she would like volunteers to come talk to the class about their profession or occupation. Well, this was her lucky day! She needn’t look any further! My hand shot up like a rocket.
“Yes, Linda, what is it?”
“My dad’ll come to school and talk to our class. He’s a police officer.”
“Are you sure?”
“But don’t you want to ask him first?”
“Okay. But he’ll come. He has a uniform and everything.”
I trotted home and announced at the dinner table that I had volunteered him to show up at my classroom in full regalia and talk about being a policeman. I remember being surprised by the momentary, but somewhat stunned, look on his face.
“You said what?”
“I said you would come talk to our class about being a policeman.”
“You did, did you?”
I’m guessing he subsequently called Miss Young to explain that he functioned in the role of a volunteer civil defense officer, not a regular on the Indianapolis police force. But she welcomed him to come anyway. And so, several weeks later, he did show up right before lunch, all decked out. And I liked to pop. My. Buttons.
My dad stood at the front of the classroom and told the students all about his uniform and its components, then described his duties and the types of things he might be called upon to do. At the conclusion of his talk, he welcomed questions from the class. For the life of me I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I raised my hand and fired off a question. I sort of recall — but my recollection is pretty hazy on this — that my question was a direct attempt to ferret out some drama. You know… had he actually popped anyone with the night stick or anything like that. His expression at that moment may have contained a hint of eye-rolling, but hey, this was my hour and I was committed to living it to the full.
About the time one of the kids asked him whether he thought Hawaii was really going to become the fiftieth state, Dad said something about having exhausted his usefulness to the class for the day, and then bid us all adieu. He departed the classroom with as much aplomb as he had arrived, and I sat at my desk basking in the afterglow.
I wish I could say that that was the last time I ever put him on the spot by volunteering him for things. But, unfortunately, I proceeded to drag him over a barrel several more times before I got all grown up. But, in true form, he would come through for me and never once hassled me about speaking on his behalf without checking first.
Oh yeah, and I’m proud of my parents for remaining so patient with me…
[I describe what my dad’s civil defense training enabled him to do late one summer morning in my post “The day critical need and a cool head converged“.]