? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 7

Creative Nonfiction

Ariel Wall

Pride: The Dad Jean


Before every meal, my father will pray aloud in French so that you know he has the capability. Not memorized prayers like the Catho­lics have. He’s got new material every time. Are you hungry? He’ll spend ten minutes blessing your mashed potatoes in a foreign lan­guage. You never knew that French prayers reach heaven faster, but now you do. Chers Père Céleste, j’adore. . . Moi. 
Rotating full circle, he is a head-to-toe Barbie doll. Ken? No . . . Barbie. At a towering 6’3,” he was born to be seen and admired. Always the properly cut hair and clean-shaven face, ready for a headshot at all times. He BeDazzles everything so that you know he can afford the extra rhinestones. He is usually sporting some sort of ferocious and sparkling dragon T-shirt. The top is covered in sequins because that’s what they wear in California, apparently. And then there are the jeans—the jeans your wildest diamond-filled dreams could not imagine. He looks in the mirror and sees a low rise, slim fit, super ultra-flare Levi’s model. You will recognize him by the way his pockets shimmer in the sunlight as he approaches. Gems more precious than gold. Only when he leaves to walk away will you get the full effect. Back pockets lined with rhinestones and studs, an angel wing stitched cleverly on each butt cheek pocket. Cowboy boots with tassels to complete the look. On several occasions, he has matched his girlfriends’ outfits perfectly. 
*** 
If it is your birthday, you will not be the only person receiving a birth­day text. His message will be forwarded to everyone that you know. He will not let a single soul go about their day without the knowledge that he has not forgotten your birthday. They might say, I was not born today. To which he might respond, No, but your friend was. You should wish them a Happy Birthday like I did. 
*** 
There is a picture of his family in his wallet so that you know he is capable of creating something from nothing. He left them more than twelve years ago and has since taken on the habit of speaking to them twice a year. But because his kids are adorable and talented individuals, he shows the pictures to his coworkers and friends. A proud dad. I’ve seen your photo, strangers will say upon meeting his children. You play sports and get straight A’s. But really—the kids are grown and have not played sports for many years; the ones who attend college achieve straight A’s, B’s, and C’s. 
*** 
My father will always offer to pay for your dinner (especially if you are a woman). He will not do this to be generous—but to show you that he is generous.

*** 
Despite one’s ability to recognize a familiar voice, and despite the invention of Caller ID, my father will inevitably begin each phone call by telling you who he is. Every call or voicemail message, he will recite his first name, last name, and relationship to you. This is Jeff Wall. Your ex-husband. / This is Jeff Wall. Your father. / This is Jeff Wall. The man who bought you Caller ID. He is a proud owner of his name. 
*** 
He might ask you to play “Let’s Compare Our Dental Plans,” just for fun. It might be interesting to see who is saving more money. Don’t be surprised if he is the winner. But in the slight chance that he is the loser, you aren’t allowed to smile.
*** 
Are you planning to surprise a loved one arriving at the airport? You want there to be balloons and signs and lots of friends gathered around. He will be there. Yes, his signs are actually old posters from his work; but he has more of them than you do. He will offer all of your friends a sign, because he has plenty to spare. Okay . . . They are written with highlighter markers that he found in the glove box . . . but he still has more signs than you. And they all say, We’re so proud. 
*** 
My father will ask you what you do with your time. Do you read? Because he does, too. And he has probably read every book that you have. And hated all of them. Do you play sports? Not like he does. He has broken records that you didn’t know existed. Are you artistic? He is ambidextrous and creates multiple art projects at the same time. Whatever you are doing to fill your days, you could be doing more. And you could be doing it like Jeff. 
*** 
Each time he gets in the car, he will enter through a different door. He will crawl over the center console and get stuck on the steering wheel, but it is worth the effort. He wants to keep his vehicle in mint condition. He has the ability to brag about something you didn’t know was a talent. He will update you that none of his doors have fallen off yet because they each get equal use. That is why his BMW is nicer than your POS. Because he takes better care of it. 
*** 
Are you allergic to any foods? Are you sensitive to light? But most importantly, are you interested in inconveniencing an entire restau­rant? So is my father! His girlfriend suspects that she has celiac dis­ease, meaning she would be unable to eat foods containing gluten. You just saw her eating a piece of bread? Coincidence! When you go out to eat with my father and his celiac-suspecting girlfriend, you will wait at the hostess desk for no less than twenty minutes, even if the restaurant is empty. The manager will be showing them the menu, line by line, and his face will be devastatingly red. When you sit to eat, the waiter will go through the menu with them a second time. Just to be sure. We deserve to know the ingredients in our food¸ he will say. They are lucky we are even eating here. 
*** 
If he makes you angry and you decide to go for a walk, he will go dancing without you. It’s about his night, not your night spent wan­dering the streets, considering going home with a drunk stranger. 
*** 
He might seem like a jerk, but my father actually has very good man­ners. And he can teach you! If he says Thank you, and you say, No problem¸ he will gladly tell you that there is a more polite response. When he says Thank you, the correct response is, You’re welcome. He will forget that you just gave him a piece of gum, though. What a great guy. 
He is not someone who will let you embarrass yourself with incorrect grammar. If you say that you are doing good, he will save your butt and tell you that you are doing well. Whew, he will definitely prevent you from being embarrassed. 
*** 
If he asks what you would like to do today, I don’t care, is usually not an acceptable answer. In fact, that sort of response will strike up a conversation in which he will tell you that your behavior foreshadows your future relationship status. You don’t care? You are definitely going to be in a controlling relationship; other people will gladly take advantage of your passivity. He will tell you that you need to make a decision—for your own good. Just say something. Anything. He knows what is best for you. And the person beside you. And the stranger beside him. 
*** 
At some point in time, you might receive a forwarded picture mes­sage of my father on a rollercoaster. Who is this man? you will most likely ask. It doesn’t matter if he knows you, or if you went to school with him twenty years ago, or if you are his ex-wife. He wishes you were here, having as much fun as he is having. While you sit on your couch watching Seinfeld reruns, he will encourage you to try to enjoy your life sometime. 
*** 
My father loves to celebrate when someone has accomplished a meaningful task—a graduation, a wedding, the birth of a baby, etc. He will try his hardest to attend the party, especially if it is to celebrate an event he, too, has accomplished. You just got home from helping children in Idaho? He will come to your welcome-home party and make a toast, just to tell the guests that he was once a missionary in France. He baptized a family every week for two years. You didn’t get a custom engraved plaque? That was his favorite part about coming home. 
You just graduated? Let him tell you about how special his gradu­ation day was. You should probably not interrupt him while he is talking. 
*** 
In between conversations about his part time job as a DJ, he might ask you what cell phone plan you have. He will question you about the purposes of a Smart phone. Would you like some advice? No. I am going to give you some advice. He will tell you that there are more important things than having internet on your phone. You need to get the bang for your buck. And also, Smart phones don’t attract chicks.

*** 
There will be a time when he decides to tell you about the adult par­ties that he has been attending lately. Over the phone, he will tell you about the mothers in bikinis and the fathers playing volleyball. As his descriptions go on and he uses the phrase Parents Gone Wild, you will have the overwhelming urge to take the phone away from your ear, set it on the table, and come back a little later. This desire is completely natural. 
On the off-chance that you take a break from the conversation, do not worry. He will still be talking when you put the phone to your ear again. He will not even notice that you have been silent for forty-five minutes. In fact, he will tell you this is the best conversation the two of you have ever had. How modest. 
You will wonder how you will ever get through a phone call with an­other person. Why listen to other people when you could just listen to yourself? You could be doing it like Jeff.