Words My Father Taught Me

by J.D. Roth

“Think it’ll rain?”

That’s what my father always said on days like today, days on which the rain fell long and hard, days on which the fields and ditches flooded, spilling into the road so that small streams formed on hills, days on which even an Oregonian craved an umbrella.

“Think it’ll rain?” was one of Dad’s mantras. It’s from him that I gained much of my sense of humor (which isn’t necessarily a good thing): the dumb observations and, especially, the use of repetition. (I often think to myself that repetition is the cornerstone to humor. Kris disagrees. You can imagine how she suffers.)

This cartoon has always reminded Kris of our relationship.

Another of Dad’s chestnuts was “should we make like a tree and leaf?” whenever it was time to go home. I’ve heard countless variations of this from other people, but that was Dad’s particular favorite.

Some of the things he said all the time weren’t particularly nice. When a family member did something dumb, he’d say, “If you had a brain, you’d take it out and play with it.” Sometimes to Mom he’d say, “Dumb woman — that’s like saying woman twice.”

I’d repeat this stuff to my friends, and sometimes to my friends’ parents. I can remember one instance during high school in which I used the “dumb woman” bit when a friend’s mother did something silly. (And this was a smart woman, a woman I respected.) It didn’t even occur to me that I was being misogynist. This stuff was bred into me, just as was a low-level racism and a low-level hatred of gays. (I’m happy to report that I seem to have shed most of the vestiges of these prejudiced ways.)

Dad was a good guy, and funny, and I have a great fondness for those little phrases he used to say all the time, but he was also something of a jerk.

Updated: 22 December 2005

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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