Did you know that the plural for Platypus is Platypodes? For real, trust me, I have a BS in Zoology… of course my sisters know exactly how much BS comes out of that degree…
So why the heck would I even be talking about Platypodes? Well to explain why you have to come back with me about 41 years or so…. Hang on folks, another flashback!
At 5 I was already facing the struggles of being “the sensitive kid” I didn’t know what sensitive was, but I knew I just couldn’t let stuff go, and teasing set me into rages or crying fits or temper tantrums or on a really exciting day my family would see the synergistic effects of all three (I didn’t yet know what synergy was either, but I knew I was easy to melt down.)
My 5 sisters, also being sensitive, picked up on this quickly… depending on the sister or even the day I would be subject to teasing for entertainment (watching me implode, then explode, then re-implode may not have been worth getting bitten but we only had three channels back then so…) or sometimes I would be very nurtured or cared for by one or more of my sisters. A skinned knee never went unattended and I actually didn’t learn to tie my shoes until I was about seven….teen because someone always did it for me. I really had 6 mothers growing up and I know for sure that without that care I would not have survived some of the things I’ve faced in my life. (I gotta put in props to my sisters and not only because they follow my blog… but mostly because they follow my blog)
So 6 mothers…. one dad. I don’t know if there is any boy who didn’t grow up wanting more from his dad. Some boys grow up without any dad at all so I have to really say how grateful I am for the time that he gave me. As a toddler he had this game. Usually on Saturday mornings I’d be watching cartoons or playing with my Spider-Man and having him beat up Superman. (it actually happened in a huge cross-over comic in 1976, Spider-Man was radiated with energy from a red sun at the time rendering Superman vulnerable but still…)
Whether I was playing or watching tv or whatever my dad had this whistle, I still remember exactly the tune, when I would hear it my heart would just bubble with happiness that came out as a toddler giggle and I would race to his room. When I’d get there he had a saying, “Beware the Duck Billed Platypus!” and I’d dive on the bed to get tickled by the Platypus and laugh and giggle. This is the fondest memory I have of my dad. It made me feel wanted and loved and valued by him.
One day the whistles stopped.
I read a post on the facebooks the other day, (that actually wasn’t political) it read, “One day you will put your child down and never pick him up again.” Ouch.
I remember the exact year my dad put me down, never to pick me up again.
I guess he thought I grew too old for tickles and I get that but, it was never replaced with anything. I almost hate to keep writing because it sounds like I’m demonizing my dad, that’s not what this is about. I know he did thousands of things for us kids that we never even knew, I know he cared, and I know he sacrificed and worked hard to provide for us. So please, please understand I realize how lucky I was to have him.
This is just about that feeling of loss when something wonderful in your life is over. I’ll never forget that feeling of pure joy and happiness when I’d hear that whistle, and there is still a little boy wandering around in my heart waiting to hear it again.
My dad had another little running joke with me, the Johnny Cash song, “The Boy Named Sue.” He would tease me and call me Sue and I don’t remember really knowing that song was about, and I liked the attention, but I didn’t miss the implication that his only boy might have been a little too sensitive and girly. I went along with the joke and he had other nicknames for me that were better. He did call me “Speed,” all the time and I thought that was awesome because I loved Speed Racer. But when the “Sue” came out after one of my tantrums or when I’d be crying, I’d try to stop crying and try to stop feeling so that dad would go back to calling me Speed.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and my dad lost his 15 year battle with lung cancer that I figured out what, “The Boy Named Sue” was all about. On February 26th, the day after my birthday I was on my way to work and got a call from my sister, “Daddy died this morning.”
Did not feel a thing, the businessman in my head took over and I mechanically did the things I had to do to get a Substitute at work and call my wife etc. etc. I felt nothing.
Not until a week later when a radio announcer told the airwaves that Johnny Cash had died and then he played his favorite Johnny Cash song. Y’all are smart so I’m sure you’ve guessed it…
“Boy Named Sue.” I got a little choked up, once again I was on my way to work, but I turned up the radio to listen to the song. Near the end, after an epic battle the father of the boy named Sue sings,
“Son, this world is rough
And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
And I know I wouldn’t be there to help ya along
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you’d have to get tough or die
And it’s the name that helped to make you strong”
A flood of emotion crushed in on my heart, my dad was gone, he had passed, and I finally realised what he was telling me when he called me Sue. I had to pull over and stop to let it all out. The prophecy of that song played out in my life.
There are men who had it worse, there are men who had it better. I’m just a man trying to figure out my dad so that I can be a better dad to my son and daughter. I don’t want them to have to show the world a tough face to make up for my absence or to end up with a little child in their heart listening for a whistle that will never come.
So I pray to Our Father, God grant me the wisdom to see opportunities to teach my kids about your unfailing love, and how you are here for us always, how we can rely on your strength and let me be an example of your love and grace.
A verse that helps me see the God is the Father to the fatherless and inspires me to better fatherhood.
Psalm 46: 1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and mountains quake and with their surging.”
p.s. I love you dad…