Father's Day is here again. Every year, people ask whether I'm OK when the holiday rolls around, as I lost my dad in high school, but I always tell them it feels like any other day. Mother's Day and Father's Day are pretty oppressive now that most of us live on the internet, so if anything, that gets to me on some level.
Rather than be sad, however, I'd like to recall the funniest and most valuable memories I have of my father, who was flawed like everyone else but a magnet for excitement, clever, full of adventure, and a tall, welcoming teddy bear figure to all who knew him.
For those of you who cannot celebrate Father's Day, I hope you enjoy my stories. I recognize you have no reason to care about me or family, but perhaps these anecdotes will remind you of your own relatives in some way. I know if he'd been around longer, I'd have dozens more, but these alone will keep me laughing for a lifetime.
Some of these don't paint us in the most admirable light, but that's not what family is about, and my dad wasn't in my life simply to dote on me all the time. He showed me tough love and was very hard on me when necessary, and I'm the person I am today because of his approach to parenting. Father's Day shouldn't be sad for anyone, so here are some amusing experiences I had growing up under my parents' roof.
Feel free to share your own dad (or mom) stories with me in the comments section.
Every Christmas, my dad famously put together a depressing yet funny holiday letter highlighting everything that went wrong during the year. The older kids are in their sixth year of college, my job is mind-numbing, and no one likes Laura, he'd write. The last part was accurate for much of my youth, so when we started carpooling with Johnny, a boy in the neighborhood who had been mad at me for two years, my dad wasn't surprised that the two of us had a bad history.
Johnny didn't just despise me, though. He and his friends, who I suppose could be labeled as the punk clique of our tiny, over-privileged school, taunted me throughout freshman year. They were meaner than any of the "popular" kids had ever been, but when I heard that Johnny and his cronies wanted to TP my house, I became concerned and confronted him about it.
"Listen, I know you don't like me, but please don't TP my house," I begged. "My parents haven't done anything to you. Go after me, not them."
"Whatever, Anorexia Nervosa," Johnny said. "Quit being such a gossip."
Helpless and haunted with nightmares about the threat, I confided in my dad, who approached the situation in a calm, collected way.
"Aren't you worried?" I asked.
"No. He's a self-hating rich kid. There's no way he's going to do it," my dad said.
I wasn't so sure, but after my dad drove the two of us to school the following morning, the game changed forever. Before Johnny and I got out of the car to head to class, my dad shouted out the window, "Oh Johnny, did you see that roll of toilet paper I left on the seat for you?"
Slamming the door, Johnny scurried away. Later on, a friend of Johnny's grabbed my arm in conceptual physics class, appearing distraught.
"I don't know what you did to Johnny during carpool, but he was ranting about you nonstop at recess," the guy explained. "He kept shouting about you throwing toilet paper at him in the car."
I furrowed a brow. "OK, that's a lie. I didn't say a word to him on my ride to school. We don't talk."
That was the truth. But my dad, ever the schemer, had written the words DON'T DO IT on a roll of toilet paper and set it on the seat cushion where Johnny would plop down.
Humiliated, Johnny never TP'd our home. Instead he went around school claiming I'd been the one to place the toilet paper roll on his seat, even though my dad had clearly been behind the whole thing. I never debunked the rumors, because I knew in my heart he'd been the gossip all along, not me, and it took my dad's innocuous but effective prank for him to own his true colors.
As you've probably already gathered, my dad had a flair for mischief. One night, my two best buddies, Crystal and Lauren came over for a sleepover. We disliked our adult neighbor across the street, Marshall, a 30-something who'd yelled at us in his boxers once for laughing too loudly at 9 o' clock at night, so every time the three of us got together, we aimed to make as much noise as possible to rouse Marshall from his sleep and terrorize us again. For some reason, his single instance of yelling at us warranted merciless payback, but we were bored high school freshmen with nothing better to do than disrupt our humorless neighbor, a known shouter and neighborhood killjoy, so we did.
While we were singing songs outside my bedroom window one night, the landline (remember those?) rang. I picked up the phone and was told the police were on the other end.
"Is this a resident of [my old address]? We have to take you and your friends downtown for waking up the whole neighborhood," a man said.
"We were just kidding around, we'll go to bed!" I said, tears already pouring down my face. "Please don't arrest me!"
"It's too late, young lady."
I wept for another 30 seconds before my giggling parents knocked on the door and revealed they'd impersonated the cops to teach us a lesson in respect. My friends laughed at the prank, but I remained upset, my heart rate thumping out of my chest for another hour. Though I'd been genuinely terrified, I eventually realized I'd gotten off lucky. I wasn't so lucky when the real police showed up to our house months later, though ...
After Marshall barked at my friend Lauren one day, we decided to get the ultimate revenge on him during our weekly sleepover. Crystal, Lauren, Heidi, and I sang songs out the window for an hour, waiting for Marshall to storm out of house half dressed to shriek at us. When he didn't, we stepped up our efforts by putting lotion on his doorknob, belting out pop music in the streets, putting pieces of toilet paper in his tailpipe, cartwheeling on his lawn, and throwing a tennis ball at his garage door before racing back into my house. I realize we were just as big of bullies as Johnny, not to mention total brats, but we only acted this way because Marshall hated the idea of people in the neighborhood having fun. At any rate, we escalated all night, confused as to why Marshall hadn't told us to STFU yet.
That's because he got the cops to do it for him. By midnight, the authorities pounded on my front door, demanding to know why we'd been screaming for hours on end and whether there'd been a domestic violence episode in our house.
Furious, my dad walked up the stairs, leaving me to speak to the policeman myself, my cowering friends and exhausted mom and dog a couple feet away. My dad wouldn't talk to me for days, and that more than anything showed me just how much I'd screwed up. I remember thinking he'd never look at me the same way again, as I hadn't fully learned my lesson from the initial faux police call, but he came around, and I picked up a thing or two about taking responsibility for my actions as well as the actions of others under my watch.
My parents were late for everything during my childhood: When we lived in LA, I was always at least ten minutes late to elementary school, I was always the last kid picked up at day care, my parents made me late for every birthday party to which I was invited, you name it. This is why I make a point to arrive at work before the rest of the PolicyMic team and am early to meetings of all kinds these days.
Naturally, my parents were never late to pick me up from middle school dances, which were held in the gymnasium every month. I'd purposely give my parents the wrong pick up time, but they made sure to get there ten minutes before the end of the event, cutting into the final songs of the night, when my friends and I had finally racked up enough courage to ask boys to dance with us.
One night, my parents arrived at the dance fifteen minutes early, sitting high up in the gymnasium bleachers for a perfect view of the awkward dance attendees. They waved to me on the floor, and moments later, a boy I had a crush on asked me to dance. Because my parents had already spotted me, I turned the guy down before I could even ask him to migrate to another part of the gym. I felt terrible, not just for the boy I'd shut down, but for myself, as it was extremely rare for me to be asked to dance.
On the ride home that night, my mom asked me and my buddy Crystal, "Were there any cute boys there tonight?" as she did after every dance, provoking eye rolls from the both of us as usual.
This time, however, I followed up with a confession. "Well, there was a boy I liked who asked me to dance, but you and dad were right near us, so I said no."
At that, my dad slammed on the brake, turning around to look at me.
"A nice boy asked you to dance and you rejected him? That's the worst thing I've ever heard! Do you know how fragile the ego of a middle school student is? I bet he's home crying right now."
"What was I supposed to do? You shouldn't have been in the gym!" I fired back. "Stop going to my dances."
"Way to go, Laura," Crystal joked, but I wasn't in the mood for kidding around.
"You're to write that guy an apology note the second we get home. How would you feel if you put yourself out there only to be mocked like that?" my dad said.
I did indeed pen a note, but I never gave it to the boy. Instead, I asked him to dance at the following three dances, and when I inquired whether he remembered me declining his offer earlier in the semester, he said he didn't. Figures. My dad had instilled a ton of guilt in me with his punishment method, but he did put me in the shoes of someone who'd been turned away, and that taught me to be a little more understanding of people who pursued me in the future.
I was born in Los Angeles and lived there until the fourth grade, so I was raised around starlets and aspiring superstars. My dad, who worked with folks like George Burns and Betty White on certain projects, dabbled into the entertainment industry during our time in southern California, and when I would make a huge deal out of his interactions with big name actors, he'd tell me that they're no different than the rest of us and should not be idolized as such. He adored Betty, but could never understand the status and celebrity-obsessed culture of LA.
Though I still adore all-things pop culture, I don't fixate over the A-list as I once did, and I have my dad's constant reminder to stay down to earth to thank for that.
Now tell me all about your dads (or moms)! Feel free to tweet stories my way too: @LauraDonovanUA