By Shawn Burns of Backpacking Dad
One Halloween, when I was six years old, I went across the road to the twins’ house. The twins were English, living in Carp, Ontario with their older sister, father, and their father’s new, young, wife. Whenever I would visit the twins’ house, their father seemed to be home. This could have been a function of his actually being a homebody, or it could have merely been that I rarely went over to the twins’ house.Whatever the truth, it always seemed like he was home, and he always seemed to have some stake in what the twins were doing. He was home, of course, on Halloween.
I went across the road to the twins’ house, and begged some candy from their father as he sat on his front step.
“Do you want to see me wiggle my ears?” he asked, pointing to the rubber ears he was wearing as a costume that night.
“Sure!” I said, and he shook his head vigorously.
“Did you see them wiggle?” he asked. “No,” I replied. I had taken his head shake for some kind of warm up or prep work. I was expecting something different, since even at six years old I actually could wiggle my ears. I had learned from my own father, who had taken the time to show me this trick during one of those times when he was home instead of in the field. He was a soldier, and in addition to moving his family all over the country, and eventually to Europe, he spent a lot of time away from home, out on maneuvers and sleeping in ditches. When he was home there was always something that would stick out in my mind, though: wiggling ears, trying to lift weights with him, playing in cardboard boxes he had decorated with pen-drawn cockpit instruments. He taught me how to shoot a pellet gun on one long winter day, and took the training wheels off my first real bike when he finally came home from a trip and saw that one of the training wheels had come off, leaving the metal arm behind. I would scrape along the sidewalk as I turned corners. My father fixed it.
He also taught me how to wiggle my ears. So I stared at the tip of the twins’ father’s fake ear after he was done shaking his head, watching for it to move. I was no fun to tease with this trick, it turned out, because I was looking with my eyes and expectations. I made him do it three times, each time waiting until after he had finished shaking his head to look at the tip of his fake ear.
“You’re not wiggling your ears,” I stated. If it wasn’t ear-wiggling as my father taught it, it couldn’t be ear-wiggling. The twins’ father finally had to explain the joke to me.
Sometimes I wonder if my father had more of an impact on my personality, on my being, because of his absences. Did having him around in short bursts concentrate his essence in me? Or would I have turned out just the same if he had been home as much as the twins’ father was? Would I have gotten the joke?
I’m home much more than my own father was, but I hope I’m having as much of an impact on my own kids as he had on me. From small lessons, to persistent character traits, I hope I am passing on to them all the good I received from him. I hope my father lives forever that way. I hope his great-great-grandchildren can tell the difference between someone really wiggling their ears, and someone trying to play a trick on them.
(Ed note: We usually try to end these posts with a comment or a question but this is something a little bit different for Father’s Day. Sharing comment love is more than welcome, especially for good writing like this.)
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