David Bruce: Anecdotes About Fathers

On Father’s Day, Danny Thomas’ young children gave him cards. Daughter Marlo gave him a funny card, which he read out loud and enjoyed. Daughter Terre then gave him a sentimental card that described him as “the best father in the world” and as “caring and loving.” Danny liked the card and read it out loud, but he asked Terre, “Do you believe all of this?” Terre answered, “Yes, Daddy.” Danny then said, “Because if you really believed what’s written in this card, you’d do the things Daddy wants you to do, wouldn’t you?” Again, Terre said, “Yes, Daddy.” Danny continued, “Like right now. Where’s your retainer?” Terre answered, “It’s upstairs, Daddy.” Danny said, “Upstairs! I didn’t spend my hard-earned money for you to put your retainer in a drawer upstairs! It belongs in your mouth! I bought it for you so you would grow up to have beautiful straight teeth, with a smile to be proud of!” Terre looked at Marlo and said, “You couldn’t have given me the other card?” Sometimes, the children of professional comedians are just as funny as the professional comedians.

In 2008, in the western Sydney, Australia, suburb of Penrith, Andrew Leitch was shopping with his parents and his infant son, Hayden, when an elderly woman lost control of her car. The car came toward Mr. Leitch and his four-month-old son, and Mr. Leitch positioned himself to shield his son. Hayden was fine after the accident, but Mr. Leitch suffered a broken leg. His parents were hurt but recovered. When footage of the heroism surfaced in 2010, Mr. Leitch was interviewed by CBS’s “The Early Show” and by Australia’s Nine Network. He said that when he saw the car bearing down on his group, he thought, “If they hit the back of me, break a leg or whatever, that’s fixable. But if they hit my son, he’s not fixable.” He added, “I’m amazed we’re still here today. I’m grateful that, yeah, at the end of the day, that the little bloke … it was more or less if it didn’t hit me, it was gonna hit him. So, yeah, just being a father, I’d do it again and again and again.”

The father of author Ben Okri, winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991 for “The Famished Road,” was educated in law in London. While there, he amassed a collection of the great classics of literature, including Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, and took them with him and his family to Nigeria. There he became very busy as a lawyer and had no time to read the classic books, which gathered dust. Once in a while, he would tell his son, “Ben, dust the books — but don’t read them!” Ben says, “That made the books fantastically attractive. I don’t know if he did it on purpose. I wouldn’t put it past him.” Anyway, Ben would read for hours, until his father would ask, “Ben, what are you doing?” Then Ben would begin to dust the books again. Today, Ben says, “Books still have this tension for me — the do and don’t, the possibility of danger, of secret knowledge. It makes them very potent.”

Artist Jeffrey Vallance grew up with a father who hated the snails in the family’s garden — he would stomp on them. Therefore, on July 4, 1976, Jeffrey gathered as many of the snails he could find and painted an American flag on their shells. He thought that would stop his father from stomping on the snails, but actually the flags made the snails more visible to his father. Therefore, Jeffrey asked his father to stop stomping on the snails, and his father complied. A local newspaper did a couple of local-color articles about the snails, but his father eventually poisoned the snails and killed them. Jeffrey gathered the snails’ shells and then mounted them along with copies of the newspaper articles. He then began selling the snails for $200 each and told his father that “every time he was putting his foot down [and crushing a snail], that was like $200 gone!” Money was something his father understood.

When Billy Crystal was five years old, his father took him to work with him. Before going to the workplace, they stopped at a little coffee shop, and Billy’s father ordered “the usual.” Billy did not know what “the usual” was, but it sounded important, so he ordered it, too — and learned that it was a buttered roll, a cup of coffee, and a cigarette. Billy’s father ran a jazz store and recorded great jazz artists. Later, Billy learned that some of the jazz artists considered his father “the Branch Rickey of jazz” because he integrated jazz players. On his recordings of jazz, black musicians and white musicians often played together — something that was not common back then. In fact, his father helped get Billie Holiday’s anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit,” recorded.

Ty Cobb’s father would have preferred that Ty follow a profession such as law or medicine, but Ty wanted to play baseball. After Ty got a low-paying job playing baseball, his father wrote out a series of $15 checks for his expenses. The checks were dated at various times so that Ty could cash them at intervals. The first job playing baseball did not work out although Ty played well, but Ty found another baseball-playing job that he could take. He called his father and told him about the new job, and his father encouraged him to take it, saying, “Don’t come home a failure.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., worked hard to be a good writer, but for a long time influential critics who did not like science fiction regarded him “merely” as a writer of science fiction. Eventually, and especially with the publication of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” he became famous. Mark, his son, who was named after Mark Twain, was once asked what it was like to grow up with a famous father. He replied, “When I was growing up, my father was a car salesman who couldn’t get a job teaching at Cape Cod Junior College.”

“The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.” — Robert Frost

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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Free PDF book: William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce

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Free PDF book: Honey Badger Goes to Hell — and Heaven by David Bruce

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