My Dad was his father’s child, vowing to inflict his children with the same broad and banal humor to which he was subjected growing up. Pull my finger? Watch me tie this stuff to the cat’s tail. Who? You’re no owl, your foot don’t fit a limb. My Dad wanted kids just so he could ask them to pull his finger, or answer them with the same nonsensical rejoinders with which his father answered him.
I spent my childhood rolling my eyes at his habitual responses to questions, guarding against his constant needling. His jibes didn’t end when I reached my majority, they just took a different turn. Instead, he persisted in calling me Susie, which I absolutely hated. As with any other individual, I asked politely that they not use that name, and progressed to ever more insistent arguments until they stopped. This didn’t work with my Dad. I tried ignoring it, telling him I didn’t like it, asking him to stop and getting angry; all with absolutely no effect.
Some young niece or nephew, after hearing my Dad and I go through our ritual repartee about that foul epithet, would want to join in on the fun and with a big grin call me Aunt Susie. Invariably, an adult would take them aside and explain that this was not funny and that my Dad and I were not really playing. At least, I wasn’t playing; I really do find the name Susie as applied to me despicable. Dad was just being Dad.
Over the last couple years, I have talked more with my Dad, about politics, books, movies, and family. We have shared honest likes and dislikes, agreed to disagree on some subjects, and been convinced by each others’ reasoned arguments. Still, he would grin and call me Susie when I walked in the door, or typed out a long series of s’s, spattered with u’s and other vowels, in his emails.
Although my Dad’s dislike of Christmas music was well known in our family, it never occurred to me until this last Christmas season that I could utilize this morsel of knowledge in our contest. So, I took to singing Jingle Bells to him every time he called me Susie. I even typed the lyrics into email replies, finishing off with a long line of LOL’s. Eventually, he got a little more hesitant about calling me Susie, and I felt that I had achieved a somewhat empty triumph.
Dad died just nine days ago. It was swift, taking us all by surprise. There was never time, in the last few weeks of his life, to talk about the intimate things of day-to-day life. He’ll never call me Susie again, I’ll never sing Jingle Bells loudly and off key to him again.