Dad Visits

General
By Caleb John Clark, 10-26-97
My dad is 57. He’s a lanky, disheveled Yankee. He’s 6 feet tall with a gaunt chiseled face like Abe Lincoln’s mixed with a little Clint Eastwood. Nowadays he sports a white beard. He’s from Maine and his name is Alexander Shaw Clark, or “Zandy” for short.

~~~

My father flew into Encinitas to see me for a weekend recently. His girlfriend had dragged him out of New England for a conference she had in Phoenix.

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My mother and father split for the first time when I was 2 and we had just moved to the Bay Area. That was in 1968, my first year as a real flower child. I hold that title proudly. I have come to realize that I can never be a real hippie, because I was a child of the hippies, and thus a child of their revolution and experience.

~~~

My father followed, moved, helped and occasionally reunited, with my mother until I was in college. For 18 years he made sure he was close to me, no matter which coast my mother lighted on, and for 18 years my mother made sure we could spend time together.

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Now he was coming to my world. A world where I was in school but receiving no support. A world in a land my father was last in when he was 19 and surfed a summer away while he wrote for a small newspaper.

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We fight sometimes, my dad and I. We’re two talking, pedantic, ranters who’s words end up clashing. Now it seems the fight in us has withered, chiseled by time and temperament down to a dull blade. My dad’s calmer nowadays, more steady, and I am in a healthy time. We didn’t spat once on this weekend.

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According to custom I surrendered my keys to my father at the airport. Long ago, after years of white knuckle stress driving and heated tête-à-têtes about technique, we decided that when we’re both in *any* car, he drives. See, he never believed I saw other cars and I always made it worse by pretending I didn’t. Our treaty has worked great for the past years. As I handed over the keys this time, he laughed and refused them. I drove carefully up to Encinitas and my dad didn’t stomp his break foot once. We stopped at school and surfed the Web for an hour side by side in the lab I work at. My dad searched for ballroom dancing events.

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It was a perfect southern California weekend. Sun shining strong, no wind. We dumped my father’s gear and hit Moonlight beach for a few body surfs in the 67 degree water. Keep in mind my dad was coming from the beginning of light depravation season and 25 degree weather back in Maine. He was smiling wide as we lay on the sand and let the heat dry us off.

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My dad’s been ballroom dancing for 7 years now and does some teaching. Once he told me that he loves to dance because he can’t talk while he does it. At 5pm we arrived at the Belly Up tavern for a big band swing happy hour. All the times I’ve been to the Belly Up it’s been sardine packed with 20-something’s looking for love, so I advised my dad to dress T-shirt casual. Of course this night the bar was nothing but over 60 couples dressed to the hilt in suits and gowns. They were dancing to a suit-and-tie-wearing big band being lead by a 60 year old diva. But my dad is smooth in the dance scene and hit the floor running. After a few dances of doing his stuff, his lanky arms and legs deftly spinning old ladies around silkily, the crowd knew he could dance. I watched and worked on a “top ten reasons ballroom dancing is better then sex.” list we were co-writing. “The rhythm method actually works.” was our best. As we left the twenty something’s were streaming in for the next band. I watched as they stared dumbfounded and smiling at the old folks cutting the rug. I could see them bracing for a smoky night of failed fantasies barely overheard above the din of music that was hard to groove to. Watching old people swing dance it becomes evident that you haven’t been practicing the right night moves.

~~~

Sunday we started things off with breakfast at the cafe I study at a lot. It’s called Miracles, maybe because it bestows it’s customers with miracle like espressos, warm employees, and a deck ringed with flowers and an ocean view. As always there were a few of my cafe friends there for us to chat with about the days politics and such. My dad had never had eggs scrambled by the steam from an espresso machine’s milk steamer, he loved it. After deck tanning, talking and juicing up on coffee and carbs, we hit Swami’s beach at mid-day and caught low tide. Swami’s is world famous, but well hidden. A four story wooden step plunge is the only access. As we walked out in the warm water and turned around I realized that I had been transported to Tahiti. Flowers draped over sandy cliffs as surfers played by a reef break. The water was clear and warm. My dad and I body surfed together, tumbling into the tangy foam and getting spun into soft sand by the weight of the Pacific.

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At 2pm, we headed home, damp and crinkly from the ocean and knowing there was no need to change until the air dried us out. We made some home brew lemon-aid, dad wolfed some sardines and bread which he loves, and we braced for a little party I’d whipped up in my father’s honor. Croquet in the sun and conversation lasted until 6 when we bolted for Thai food before heading down to Balboa park for a ballroom dance event.

~~~

100 people half filled the huge dance space at the park. My dad didn’t even sit down before hitting the floor. First he watched the lessons, picking up West coast technique and then he danced with every woman he could get his hands on. The ballroom scene is bizarre. Old men in bad clothes (and sometimes wigs) floating around the room with beautiful young women who just want a good lead. Old woman doing the same with young hot shots learning the moves. My roomie and I took a beginning Cha Cha lesson in one corner and since there was a shortage of woman two old diva teachers took it upon themselves to be our partners. It’s strange to hold an older woman in your arms that you’ve never met and have her teach you things. They smell different and they feel soft and warm. My father swooped by with an absolutely devastating 60 year old Nordic Viking. During a break Ina, the Viking, came up and handed my dad her number saying, “anytime you want to dance, give me a call!” My roommate and I looked at each other and said, “we got to learn how to do this ballroom thing!” As if they heard us the heads of the event sent over the youngest, prettiest girl in the place to reinforce that thought to us and our dollars. She said she’d practice with us anytime we wanted. The metaphors were getting pretty thick. The last three dances I waltzed with my dad. He’s about 6 inches taller then me and I don’t know how to waltz. But lo and behold there I was swooping around the floor with pops like a pro. Turns out he was “backleading” to make it easy for me.

~~~

Monday morning we hit the airport at 8am and sat in the bar sipping really bad coffee and talking about women, money, computers and life until his flight. As the plane took off I held back tears, a first for me in parting from my dad. It’s not that I was never sad when he left before, it’s just that this time I was tear sad because we had had a genuinely great time as two men, not just as father and son.

~~~

Looking back on the weekend I feel proud as punch. My father came to my world, and he loved it. He told me how proud he was of me, and I can see how that pride must also give him great feelings about what kind of father he was, and continues to be, despite difficulties. A more two-way fulfillment loop I could not have designed, nor would I have wanted to.

Now I sail on a new ocean, a son following a strong star.

Caleb out.

Copyright 1994, Caleb John Clark all rights reserved

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