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head: Driving while impaired, with dad

Biff America

Today he’d be called a negligent parent, but the eyes of a 9-year-old saw it differently.

Driving a motorcycle while intoxicated, with your youngest child clinging to your back, without license or helmets – now that’s father-and-son bonding.

“If you’re not having a good time, it’s your own damn fault.”

That was one of my dad’s favorite expressions. In retrospect it seems a little contradictory, since he was usually in a bad mood. That said, he did not tolerate unhappiness in others. Three things that did give him joy were working, sipping whiskey, and shocking friends and family.

He called the forced labor “fun days” much to my sibling’s consternation.

“Fun days” were reserved for the weekends, when the entire clan, most of whom would rather be somewhere else having their eyes gouged out, would toil around our house.

The drive home from church would find him taunting the family by extolling the joys of yard work. My young age protected me. I had nothing else to do; any time I was allowed to hang out with my five older siblings without getting teased or hit was a bonus.

We’d rake, mow, shovel or paint; the old man would oversee our efforts while making pilgrimages back to the liquor cabinet, improving his mood. Upon completion, my siblings would scatter, leaving my dad and me to contemplate the fruits of our labor.

It was after such a day of drudgery that he looked at me with mischievous eyes and said, “Let’s take Mike’s motorcycle for a ride.” My brother Michael made the mistake of joining the Army and leaving his bike behind. When no one was around, I’d pull off the tarp and straddle it, never dreaming I’d get a ride until he returned.

Between the two of us, we were able to figure out the rudiments of starting, steering and braking. We were at a disadvantage because one of us was not yet 10, the other slightly buzzed. After a few trial runs around our yard and a few more around the block, we were ready to hit the open road. First we had to get past my mother.

“You damn fool,” yelled my mum, “If you want to kill yourself, at least leave your son at home.”

“I can’t,” my dad said, “He knows how to shift.”

Our first stop, only a half-mile away, was his sister’s house. We crash-landed gently on the freshly mowed lawn. My Aunt Marie was no less critical or concerned than my mother was. “Why don’t you let me drive you home, Harold. You’re going to break your foolish neck.” Undaunted, my old man answered something to the effect, “No thank you, you’re dangerous behind the wheel, especially when you’re drunk.” My Aunt was a devout Catholic, and a nondrinker. My father enjoyed shocking the relatives.

Our entire tour was only a few miles, but for me a huge adventure. We made a few stops for beer and Coca-Cola at the homes of friends and family, and much to my dad’s delight – everyone told us we were crazy.

By the time we turned the corner with our house in sight, other than the mishap on my Aunt’s lawn, we had managed to keep the rubber side down. He pulled over a hundred yards from home and said, “Let’s scare your mother.”

We switched places, me in front, him on back. He worked the throttle, but let me steer and blow the horn. I leaned on the horn, we drove into the driveway and made a few victory laps around the front yard.

My mum came running out of the house, she blessed herself, and said, “Thank God you’re back. Are you trying to kill me with worry?”

My excitement was almost flammable.

My father wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t even close. Yet after four decades of fearing, fighting, sometimes despising, always loving, and finally burying him, last Father’s Day what came to mind were the “fun days.”

Biff America can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA and KYSL radio, and read in this and other fine newspapers.


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