Friday, June 18, 2010

Dad: My Definition

Puzzles are like eyes, they're windows to a puzzlemaker's soul. Choosing a handful of words--78 words for a daily puzzle--is an intensely biographical act. If you want to get into a puzzlemaker's head (I don't recommend it, but if one is so inclined . . .), study her grids. It's all there in black and white.

We choose and discard words for the same reason--they resonate with us on a personal level, positively or negatively, for good or for ill. By their very nature, words that never make the grid aren't noticed; but they carry special meaning, simply because they've been consciously excluded.

There are certain words and phrases I won't use in puzzles, such as: Mr. Mom.  Mr. Mom is the title of a cute movie starring Michael Keaton in the role of a stay-at-home dad. The film was funny, but based on my childhood experience I promptly dismissed "Mr. Mom" as an anemic, inadequate descriptive of the stay-at-home dad. There is a better word to describe this man.

Technically, my Dad was a stay-at-home-dad . . . except that, when his "house" work was done, he went to his "work" work. Dad worked the night shift at the paper mill. When he returned home in the morning, he took over for my mom, and she'd leave for work at the dress factory. They were a precision tag team, parenting in different and complementary ways.

Mom was the extrovert with lots of friends. She moved quickly around the house doing chores, multi-tasking before there was a word for it; she literally threw dinner together in a flash . . . while sewing a winter coat and doing a few loads of laundry.

Dad was different--quiet, methodical, precise. He'd vacuum, wash floors, iron clothes, cook, tend the garden . . . in a graceful slo-mo. He'd have lunch on the table when we came home from school to watch Jeopardy! Dad did all this, on about three hours' sleep each night, for the better part of 20 years. I rarely saw him angry. I grew up assuming that all dads were like that.

Though Mom worked just as hard, it never occurred to me to define Dad in terms of my mother. "Mr. Mom" doesn't cut it for me. I have a better word.

What do I call the man who taught me how to tie my shoelaces, who drove me to tennis practice, who tuned my violin, who walked me to school on my first day of kindergarten?

I call him a Father.


DK Fennell said...


You make all us fathers who only got a store bought card very jealous.



Elizabeth said...

Darrell!!! I'm so happy to hear from you. I thought of you this week, in connection with the excellent "Oleo" comments made by Mr. Charles Mingus. :)

It took me decades to appreciate what my parents did for us kids (too long). Your wonderful daughters won't need as much time to realize their good fortune. You are a terrific Father.

DK Fennell said...

Liz: I went back to look at the comments to your Oreo post. (I only recently realized that comments in blogs sometimes formed conversations. I thought they were made up of cursing, proofs that Charles Darwin was Satanic, and demands to see the President's birth certificate. You know, like the comments sections on the major media web sites and YouTube.)

Anyway, while I think Mr Charles Mingus's comments are pretty much spot on, I tend to think this is not the Mingus who was the bassist. First, your Mingus is far too coherent. Not that there is anything wrong with being somewhat incoherent. Mingus has a marvelous story in his Beneath the Underdog of a conversation that he had with Fats Navarro right before the latter's death. While it is quite heart-rending and chilling, it's a tad incoherent. In fact, most of the book is.

Second, if it were the bassist Mingus, I would have been surprised that he didn't include Eric Dolphy's version of Oleo on the Fantasy album Eric Dolphy in Europe, vol I (and of course on the complete Dolphy on Prestige). Dolphy plays flute on that version. The album, which has Dolphy with a group of Danish (or some sort of Scandanavian) musicians (and Chuck Israels on bass), is particuarly noteworthy for Dolphy's God Bless the Child on solo bass clarinet. He would also record Oleo on bass clarinet later that year in Munich with two of the sidemen of the classic Coltrane Quintet (Tyner and Workman) and Mel Lewis. It is a recording I do not have yet, and the absence burns me deeply.

None of this is intended as a criticism of either of the Minguses. I certainly have no intention of going all Lloyd Benson on either of them. I do agree with the Miles Davis Relaxin' recommendation. And every recording by Phineas Newborn is a gem (which cannot be said of many musicians).



Elizabeth said...

Darrell, crossword-related blogs are more restrained than, say, opera blogs where one is repeatedly excoriated, hunted down and pelted with sundried tomatoes for one's opinions on Cecilia Bartoli or Lloyd Bentsen.

I'm glad to hear that you and Mr. Charles Mingus are in agreement. I appreciate the play list recommendations; you and Charles know the field and have done the necessary due diligence.

I've updated the "Oleo" post to include Charles's recommendation of the Phineas Newborn video. It's a beauty--and I love the camerawork.

Garrett said...

Hard-working parents.