Sunday, January 23, 2011

In Other Words...

My father knew a lot of things. He spoke a number of languages and was well-read. As a younger man, he wrote a novel that he never published. He spent the Sundays of his adult life tearing through the Times Magazine crossword puzzles in dizzying time. In pen! There was no "Google" or "Wikipedia" back in his time, so when he pulled quotations out from memory, it was true erudition. Me, I just go to one of those websites, cut and paste, slap a couple of quotation marks on either end, and I sound smart. He really was smart.

My brother Mike and I have discussed, at length, how much we both admired our dad's mind. I'd like to think I inherited at least some of his intelligence; and I know Mike has. There's something else I've inherited from Hanno, though, and I've never stopped to asked my brother if he has found this trait to have been handed down to him, as well. At a certain age, Mike and I caught on to the fact that it was very hard for our father ever to admit to not knowing something. I don't know if it was because he thought saying he didn't know something would somehow lower our esteem for him; this wasn't possible, of course. As a boy, I viewed my father as a larger-than-life figure. A hero, in the epic sense of the word. I thought his mind was his super-power.

He probably sensed that I felt this way about him. I've developed this theory because I see the dynamic playing itself out with my own sons. I am their dictionary, their encyclopedia and their calculator. They come to me with question after question, and, like my father before me, I do my best to answer them. Although I'd like to think I'm better at admitting my ignorance than he was, I do fear letting the boys down and somehow losing the Olympian status I have at the moment, so I, too, am reluctant to say those three dreaded words.

When my brother and I reached a certain age, we could see the signs of when Hanno didn't know the answer to one of our questions. He would repeat it, stalling for time, searching the memory banks. Then he would begin to hypothesize on the problem. At this point, Mike or I would usually say to him, or to each other, "In other words...," which was shorthand for "In other words, you don't know."

Usually if it got to this point he was caught and would cop to maybe not knowing all there was to know on the topic. Sometimes, though, he would defend his ideas, to varying degrees of success. Because he was a thinker, his squirming could, at times, become a fascinating philosophical discussion. He was that smart.

When we were older, he would give in to self-effacing giggles, followed by a quick, joking, "Fuck you guys."

It's just a matter of time, in my case, before Diego and Jackson start asking Jeeves instead of asking Dad. And that's okay. I want them to know where to go for good information. For now, though, I'll admit to enjoying being their Phineas J. Whoopie. (For those of you who don't know, he was a cartoon character in the old "Underdog" series. "The Man with All the Answers.")

And you thought I wasn't well-read!

1 comment:

  1. ah yes, "Phineas J. Whoopie", i remember him well! this recollection of Hanno, Dan, is particularly moving to me because, unlike you & Mike, my brother & i had longed desperately for a father like him who could have answered ALL of our (mostly pre-adolescent) questions & become our go-to-Socrates later on. i watched my brother's sons grow up picking their dad's considerable brains whenever the trance of video gaming/texting/cybersurfing briefly had subsided and "reality" incomprehensibly denied them "reset buttons". i hope they'll look back one day and recognize what you have and become half the "larger-than-life" fathers to their children that my brother Kevin (still) is to them. same hope for Jackson & Diego too!