On the surface, Father's Day to my father was about as meaningful as National Digestive Disorders Month. But in his secret thoughts, I suspect the event elicited a longing for some acknowledgment, and that it was more than just a pale imitation of Mother's Day. On this Father's Day, I would like to address to my father the following recollection:
A quarter-century later I can still feel the sting, a jigger's worth of Aqua Velva splashing across my peach fuzz. The Saturday night adrenaline had propelled me into a trance when, as I rehearsed a few moves in front of the mirror, I was confronted by the face of my father.
"Don't you ever stay home?" sighed this balding man in the laughable plaid bathrobe, his imploring, tired eyes unashamed at his having barged in on a teen getting psyched for the nighttime.
"Whoa, like, Dad, you know, like all the guys'll be there, and it's what's cool and, well, just 'cause you might question it, well, no way that's gonna keep me. I got things to do."
Like many in his age bracket, my old man had failed to note that the solemn twilight preparation he'd interrupted was, to his son, a prologue to poetry. My peers were soon to converge on some weekend temple of worship -- a french-fry emporium, a dance, the school parking lot -- to live out the male pack rituals, the striving to be seen, the quest for action, the release for the restless.
Which to Dad, I'm sure, just seemed like hormones run amok.
My dad's idea of a Saturday night was curling up with an iced coffee, Winston Churchill's "Hinge of Fate" under his chin and a hi-fi shrieking something I now know to be Gilbert and Sullivan. It was not the apogee of hip in our circles, and I feared for my reputation.
Our idea of a Saturday night was something like the climax toward which the rest of the week was foreplay. To remain at home was social failure. Too sick for school on Friday, you rallied for Saturday night. You dared not miss an episode; the magic might pass you by.
And whether the fare was swigging beer behind the stadium, sucking Marlboros outside the dance or draping toilet paper from trees outside a slumber party -- wherever we were, that was the place to be.
What escaped my father's grasp was the lure of the sensations, the pleasures of the bad, unchaperoned world of adults -- cars, burger-money, alcohol, activities our parents loathed but could not ignore once we had indulged in them. All was new and on the cutting edge. It could be experienced only out there, with the gang.
Well, since that night I met my father before the mirror, a few passages have been navigated ... the college, the job, the marriage, the house, the children.
Though I was scarcely aware of how the changes might look to my dad, the crowd I run with in adult life is no longer a stratum of same-aged boys specially culled to form the in-crowd. My wife is a woman. My daughters still have years before they'll even think of adolescence. My neighborhood is filled with the Family of Man -- divorcees, the elderly, fathers who pass an evening playing tag with a flock of 6-year-olds.
Saturday nights nowadays find us renting videos, filling out forms to refinance the house, transferring the whites from the washer to the dryer. Pleasures are calm and private. We listen to folk music. We are grateful for a moment of down time; the climax is witnessing the baby take her first steps.
Each passage leading up to this sedentary state I entered with hope and a sense of adventure. I doubt I ever made a discrete decision to decline into a boring, over-the-hill fogy. But the fact that it might be a fait accompli was driven home to me recently on a Saturday night.
After seeking my wife's permission, I had grabbed a moment of uncommitted time to drive over to pick up same paint thinner. In my rush, I threw on some orange, dime-store flip-flops I'd picked up at the beach. As I pulled into the shopping center, I saw the teens, hulking in their Guns N'Roses T-shirts, a boom box blaring as they oozed nighttime nonchalance, chomping on toothpicks, reeking of cologne.
Even though the new plastic feel of the shopping center should have reminded me of the era, I somehow assumed I could blend right in, relying, as I did, on some erroneous self-image of perpetual youth. I walked among the teenagers and shot them a nod, a gesture of mutual respect I assumed they were expecting, and I sauntered into the store.
But what I heard were muffled guffaws, Bronx cheers; I looked back to see them imitating my walk, pointing at my flip-flops, making me long for the Weejuns that lay at home on my closet floor.
It was there on that Saturday night that I knew that youth belonged to someone else, that my old gang, wherever they've scattered to, had been replaced by the now generation.
So it is nowadays, when Saturday evenings approach and I have occasion to look in the mirror. I feel less and less of an adrenaline flow. But when I'm mowing the lawn or paying the bills -- decked out in my best Ward Cleaver cardigan -- I think back on those throbbing teenage nights when the midnight gang assembled.
I rerun the scene with my father; for the first time, I hear the resentment in his voice.
Now on Saturday nights I thank my dad, for, among other things, letting me have those Saturday nights of my youth. It is time for him to know that now on Saturday nights, I am home. Charlie Clark is managing editor of National Journal.