Children should feel that their dad is special, their dad is the best in the world. My children feel that way. And I feel that way too.
My dad was the best because my dad was magic.
My dad was born in July. So, while I am forever out of step with the rest of the world, this month I find myself celebrating Father’s Day.
My dad’s magic made you feel special. He took everyday tasks and turned them into events. This probably had something to do with the fact he worked very hard and very long hours as a reporter and later the city editor and a columnist at the Chicago Daily News. That meant he was not around as much as my mother, who worked very hard and very long hours at home. She was with me and my two sisters for all the mundane moments.
So, at the end of the day, when Dad walked in the door wearing his Brooks Brothers suit, carrying his many newspapers and his briefcase, we were ready for magic, and he was it.
The homecoming always seemed a surprise. There was no predicting when he would be home. A breaking news story could keep him in the office past bedtime. But when he came he made an entrance. He was a showman—he stood at the door, wearing that great smile with his arms extended wide.
My mom set the stage for these guest appearances by announcing with excitement, “Your father is home.” And we would respond, “Daddy’s home!” as we ran to the front door, screaming, “Daaaddeeee!”
We would hit his legs and he would scoop down with kisses and hugs. “My girls. How are my girls? How are my little honeys?” And we would jump up and down as he would kiss and hug Mom with a large, flourishing, “And how is my lovely bride?”
Not every homecoming was the same, but in my mind, they were all show stoppers. That was Dad. He had a smile and a style that drew you to him. Even when Dad did everyday things, it was with aplomb.
When he changed a fuse, it seemed a drum roll preceded it.
When he mowed the lawn, he dressed down only as far as khakis and a frayed Brooks Brothers button-down shirt, albeit with the sleeves rolled up.
Even waking him on the weekend was an event. We would run into the dark bedroom, shaking him and he would turn and stretch. We would giggle, saying, “Sing us a song.” Sometimes, it was silly, such as the one about the girl named Charlie, who had 27 fingers on her toes. Sometimes, it was his bass version of “Asleep in the Deep,” a tribute to fallen sailors. (We just loved how he would tuck his chin and dip as he strived to hit the low notes.)
At night, we heard bedtime stories about his old girlfriends, such as Deborah Deodorant, who had a certain air about her.
On Sundays, he would read us the funnies. And he would sit down on the couch with the three of us leaning in on his legs and his lap. The newspaper’s broadsheet pages surrounded us as he announced, “The funnieees.” Then, he would interpret each strip. “What is that crazy Nancy and her ol’ pal Sluggo up to now?” adding a few pronounced, “Heh-heh-hehs.” He laughed through each panel, so we did too. Even if we didn’t know why we were laughing.
For years, I thought Ernie Bushmiller was a genius when he created Nancy, Sluggo and Aunt Fritz. It wasn’t until college that I realized what had happened. Several of us were debating the greatest comic strips and I nominated “Nancy.” My college friends went silent, until someone said, “Susy, you’re so funny.” It finally dawned on me: Dad had been pleasantly duping us every Sunday.
Nancy still makes me laugh. It is amazing the power parents have to bring joy to children.
I always wanted my boys to understand the magic of my dad. They did not know him. He died when my first boy was 3 months old.
So, I told my sons stories. I danced while they stood on my feet and sang, “The Dolly with the Hole in her Stockin’ ” as Dad did. I tried to teach them the lessons he taught me: That justice is our foundation, fight for it. Truth and honesty are the keystones of life. Every human being matters. And our words are as vital as our jokes. Have I been successful? I don’t know. But I know I have been unsuccessful in showing my boys the way my dad made me feel.
The other day, I finally found a way. My son and I went to see “The Lion King,” which is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Sept. 4. I’m sure the storyline about a young lion, who lost his father too soon, moved me to think about dad.
But it was more than just remembering or mourning. It was the feeling the whole production gave me. I felt special. I felt lucky. It was the singing, the dancing and the spectacle of it all. It was the celebration of life. It was magic—the kind of magic Dad made.
As my former colleague, Hedy Weiss, wrote in her Chicago Sun-Times review of the show, “This show is one of a kind.” Just like dad.
Happy Birthday, Robert G. Schultz.
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