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Father's Day

My father taught me to be a nerd. I say this to his credit...I wouldn't have wanted any other kind of upbringing. When I was a child, I was surrounded by Mad magazine paperbacks (the ones containing the work of long-gone greats like Bill Elder and Harvey Kurtzman), Pogo Possum books, and Tom Lehrer albums. Because of the latter, i was familiar with the name Lobachevsky by the time I was 7. All of this nerd fodder was very good for my intellectual development.

He also had a lot of books by the comic poet  Ogden Nash. I remember one poem in particular he read to me:

A cook name McMurray
Got a raise in a hurry
From his Hindu employer
By favoring curry.

Of course getting the joke depends on being familiar with the phrase "currying favor". I couldn't have been more than 6 when he read it to me,  so of course I wasn't. But that's OK, because he explained it to me. And I learned something. Nothing about life or relationships, just what "currying favor" meant. And I think I also learned what curry was from this poem. That was enough.

He was fond of home movies. He had the best possible film equipment you could have in the 60's, including a moviola.  He made a movie of me once where, thanks to some crude editing, it looked like I jumped up to the sky and came back down again.

He also had a nice collection of  silent films. Every so often we would have a movie night. My mother would make popcorn for us and spread blankets on the floor,and Pop would set up the projector and show us short films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Cops. It was an experience that really couldn't be duplicated today with DVD's.

He exposed me to books, ideas, and arts in a fun way when I was a kid. It continued after I was adult. I lived with him after my mom died (and OK, before) and read his stamp catalogs to him because his eyes were bad. I learned a lot about history and geography from doing this. For instance, I learned that there are a lot of ancient coins still around from the middle east because the climate helps preserve them (I mentioned this in a poem I wrote about him.)

He was passionate about coin and stamp collecting. Almost evangelistically so. He would hand out stamps on halloween (he did give the kids an option for candy...he wasn't that nerdy) along with a handout explaining some of the history behind the stamps. Originally he tried to give them a Halloween theme (for instance stamps from Transylvania), but after a while the themes grew broader. I typed up the handouts and of course, learned a lot in the process.

He became briefly famous for this practice. Of course he was well known in the neighborhood for it, and I know at least one 25-year-old who still has some of his stamps. Beyond the neighborhood, AP Radio did a story about him, and so did a stamp magazine.

He was not perfect. He many  flaws as  a person and as a father. But I'm not going to talk about them, except to mention they did exist. And to say how I finally figured out how to deal with the flaws that bothered me even after he was gone.Hopefully it will help someone reading this.  I asked myself  if I would be willing to give up any psychological baggage I got from him if it also meant I had to give up the really cool memories. It was much easier to answer the question than it was to ask it in the first place. The answer of course is no.

And now that I've had a chance to write about the cool memories, it seems like an incredibly stupid question.