By Maria Lagalante Schulz
Father’s Day has come and gone, and it made me think of all of the terrible Father’s Day gifts I ever gave to my Dad.
Golf balls. This was my go-to gift, because he liked to play, and it was the only piece of sporting equipment I could actually afford.
Golf umbrellas. This was a big favorite every year. He went through these all the time, which was great, because this was a cheap gift too.
Hankies. My Dad used these all the time. He always had one in his back right pocket. God forbid you had a runny nose and no tissues on you.
Round memo paper. Okay, so I was six and Father’s Day arrived and I hadn’t made anything or bought anything. So, I went downstairs to the workroom and found an old round memo notebook that the people who used to live there left behind. My father actually showed this to my brothers and thanked me for giving him something that he could actually use.
A tuna can decorated with newspaper and shellac. I think it was supposed to hold spare change and paper clips. I cut out the best comic strips (Peanuts, Bill Bailey, Brenda Star) and shellacked that can to death. He said he liked it, and it sat on his nightstand for decades.
Black shoe polish and a gift certificate for a free shoeshine. I usually charged 25 cents per shine.
An egg carton decorated with magic markers, paper strips, and shellac. I loved shellac! This gift was perfect for golf tees, golf balls, and yes, change.
A gold bust of Jesus. Jesus was wearing a crown of thorns and screaming in pain. Chris and I got it at the Saint Robert’s Flea Market for $1.50, which was great, because our budget was $2.00. My father did actually like this, and he put it on the living room mantle. It wasn’t far away from the picture of the laughing Christ. I often wondered if the pain and the laughter were related.
Ties. Not just any tie, which would be bad enough, but such ugly ties that Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati would have hidden them in the back of his closet. On days when I could get up early enough to help my father, he would pick out two ties and let me choose which one he should wear. Funny, but mine never made the cut.
A television set that only worked for a week. At last, I had a real job and could splurge on something nice…so I bought my Dad a new TV from a well-known appliance chain. When the television stopped working I tried to return it, but since I no longer had the box, they wouldn’t take it back.
Since I am shy and don’t like confrontation, I made believe I was my father and got ready to make a scene. I parked myself near the front door, telling everyone who came onto the sales floor what had happened. I especially liked walking over to people who were just about to make a major purchase and sharing my customer experience with them.
One older woman was so incensed by my story that she began to berate her salesman. “Give that poor little girl a new TV for her Daddy!” She began to scream. She had no idea that I was actually 24 because I looked about 12, and I wasn’t going to tell her otherwise. Since she was threatening to walk out on her $2,000 purchase, her salesman grabbed the manager and insisted that he give me a new TV. They couldn’t wait to get rid of me. I actually got a bigger, better, brand name TV with a spanking new remote. I held onto the box for about a year.
My father was never the kind of person who could make believe he liked a gift that he thought was terrible. It’s not that my mother didn’t get her fair share of arts-and-crafts disasters posing as gifts, but she was better at making believe you had uncovered the one gift on earth that she’d been hoping for.
I suppose I learned about honesty from my father, and how to spare someone’s feelings from my mother.
I also learned about the value of helping other people from my father. My brother Tony was a volunteer at a program that my father ran for the mentally retarded and deaf community. However, on Saturdays, Tony also had to work at his job at Queens College in the vivisectionist’s lab.
Since he couldn’t be in two places at the same time, my father asked me to help Tony get his work done early enough so he could also volunteer. So, on Saturday mornings, we’d get up before dawn and drive to Queens College to clean the cages and feed the animals.
I still remember that feeling of getting out of my warm bed, bundling up and walking across the Queens College campus in the pre-dawn hours. Tony would point out the skyline and we’d name the buildings: The Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, The Pan Am Building, The RCA Building, and The Twin Towers.
We’d get to the Science Building, feed and water the animals, clean the cages and sweep up. The entire laboratory smelled like bug spray so rancid that I spent the entire time there plugging up my nose and breathing through my mouth.
It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to help Tony if I didn’t want to. My Dad asked me to help, and I enjoyed our time together in those days. It would just be a few more years before he married Kathie and moved away, and I actually missed those early morning outings.
When we were done, we would meet our parents and brothers at The Bagel Nosh in Fresh Meadows. We’d grab a tray and get a deal on the breakfast special, which was usually 2 eggs on a bagel with bacon and a drink. We’d find a table big enough for my parents, Tony, Joey, Paul, Chris and me, and then feast on bagels and eggs, cream cheese, lox, bacon, and anything else we could get our hands on.
The best gift I think I got from my father was the ability to see humor in a terrible situation. When my grandfather was suffering from what we now know was Alzheimer’s disease (they called it senility back then), my father helped my mother take care of her father when her mother ran away to Puerto Rico. I suppose my grandmother needed a break (but that’s another story).
I can still see Dad sitting at the dining room table with my grandfather, patiently going through my parents’ wedding album and trying to help my grandfather identify all the people in the photos.
Grandpa: “Who’s that?”
Dad: “That’s Sarita, your daughter.”
Grandpa: “Who’s that?”
Dad: “That’s me.”
Grandpa: “Who are you?”
Dad: “I’m Louie, your son-in-law. I’m married to Sarita.”
Grandpa: “Who’s this guy?”
Dad: “Nick, that’s you.”
Grandpa: “Wow! I’m great looking!”
Or the morning later that week when my father and my brother Jude rushed to the bathroom to help my grandfather, who had gone in to shave but was now screaming.
Grandpa: “HELP ME! HELP ME!”
Dad: “What’s the matter, Nick?”
Jude: “Grandpa, did you cut yourself? What’s wrong?”
Grandpa: “I’M BLIND! I’M BLIND!”
Jude gently took off Grandpa’s glasses and handed them to my Dad, who wiped the shaving cream off the lenses and placed them back on Grandpa’s head.
Dad: “Better, Nicky?”
Grandpa: “THANK YOU!” he said, as he threw his arms around my father and brother and cried while they consoled him.
It was good training for my father’s later years, when he would care for his own mother for 7 years following a stroke, and my mother for 14 years with Alzheimer’s (just like her Dad and sister). At one point, he cared for both my grandmother and my mother at the same time.
It would be a lie to say that those years were full of laughs, but it would also be a lie to say we didn’t manage to find some of our worst moments pretty funny. We laughed whenever my grandmother claimed that she was never going to die, despite our millionth trip to the hospital emergency room and the doctors’ insistence that she only had hours to live. Fifteen years later, we were waging that my grandmother was the one to listen to.
We also laughed when my mother started to say that I was Oprah Winfrey and that she was Olivia DeHavilland. I didn’t argue with her; it was the first time I was ever rich and my mother was a glamorous Hollywood star.
These days, my Dad spends his time volunteering at the nursing home where my grandmother and mother lived out their last days. He likes to say the people there are just like him, only they’re bed-ridden and in wheelchairs and he’s still walking around.
He’s still dreaming, and screaming, and making a scene. He writes a blog called The World Around Us (check it out on the sidebar). Read it and leave comments on his blog too (he will be delighted).
Father’s Day passed and I didn’t get my Dad anything because he told me not to. It’s okay though. I’m all out of shellac anyway.
My Dad and I had lunch together the other day at the Blue Bay Diner in Fresh Meadows, Queens. It’s still the best!
Toasted Bagel ”All the Way”
1) Toast the bagel of your choice
2) Spread on cream cheese
3) Add Nova Scotia Lox, lettuce, tomato, red onions, capers (optional) and garnish
So, what are the Father’s Day gifts you gave your Dad? Got a funny story to share? Please leave a comment and let us all in on it.