That song, a big hit in 1963-64, just cracked you up and cracked up your daughters, too:
Hello, Muddah, Hello, Faddah,
Here I am at Camp Granada,
Camp is very entertaining,
And they say we’ll have some fun
if it stops raining.
(Allan Sherman / Lou Busch, Warner Bros. Records
Donna and I never went to sleep-away camp, but I remember you singing this song when it came on the radio, and you knew all the verses. You were, Faddah, to us, the master of the witty comment, the bad pun, the dumb joke and goofy song. You and Mom together and separately taught us to walk, ride a bike and roller skate, to identify poison oak, to swim and climb trees and water ski. You whispered in our ears from the time we were born that we would be smart, read well, be good at school, go to college.
Perhaps your greatest gift to us was that you didn’t raise us to be prissy girls. That is, you made sure that we knew how to properly wash a car, change a tire and the oil, and you had Donna mowing the lawn before she was in junior high. Though, truthfully, you couldn’t have kept her from car washing and lawn mowing; it became her thing. I was terrified of lawn mowers until I was in my 20s. Nor did I ever learn how to throw a softball, though you tried to teach me. (Donna did, though.) Another good lesson: Not everything works as well for each kid. But, you said to me, “You gotta try. Just try. See what happens.”
And what happened was that you and Mom raised two strong women, feminists before we knew the word, to stand on our own two feet, find careers we loved and be independent in the world.
Knowing that you had a young writer in the family, you brought home the hand-cranked mimeograph machine, plunked it on your workbench, cranked it up so it gave off the sulphurous odor of rotten eggs and brought my first newspaper to life, the Granite Bay Gazette. (Mom typed my stories on stencils on the manual Smith-Corona, which later became mine.)
You took us to Girl Scouts and 4-H meetings and events, to the pool where we swam on the synchronized swim team and eventually became water safety aides, then lifeguards and swimming instructors. You and Mom were our first audiences as we sang at home and family gatherings. You attended our school band concerts (bless you!) and applauded as if we were pros. Your second daughter takes after you in so many ways—you bequeathed your fixit skills to Donna. The woman is fearless, tackles any chore set before her, including laying her own kitchen flooring, and, since you died in 2004, is Mother’s ace Fixer of House Stuff. She sews, too.
I, on the other hand, inherited almost none of those practical skills (“Janis has other gifts,” you and Mom liked to say), but thanks to you, I knew that I would only marry or partner with men who made me laugh and thought I hung the moon. And I found two who have.
I’m pretty sure you were the one who taught me where to knee a guy if he got “fresh,” which I did when I was a freshman and a senior boy who invited me to his prom drove me to a hilltop and parked the car. I was ready for him, and he promptly drove me home. It is a skill that has come in handy a few times in my life.
So every Father’s Day I look up and say aloud, “Thank you, Faddah, literally, for making us to begin with, and for everything you made us after that—especially the strong women part.” You set a high bar for your girls—allowing us to be ourselves and trusting us to make choices for our own lives—and we are beyond grateful to you and Mom for your support in every way, which continues to this day. We know how lucky we are.