From my earliest memory I can recall sitting on my Dad’s knee; balanced and perched with my elbows rested on our kitchen table. Sometimes he would bounce me up and down with his right hand on my shoulder or on my back. With his left hand he’d nurse his cup of black coffee with a smoking Camel (or Lucky Strike) between two fingers. We would look at his racing form or boxing news, as he answered my childish questions about work, mother, aunts, bicycles, animals, trees, uncles and grandmothers. In the springtime he’d point to the robins perched in the tree outside the kitchen window of our second-floor, shabby Victorian flat. My mother refilled his coffee mug and he snuffed out one Camel and went for another. Most of what I learned about father’s love was while perched on his knee. When I was seven, I inherited the chair to his right at our kitchen table. My younger sister had his knee, his lap, his arms and his kisses. One day, on his knee, after a sip of coffee and lighting up another cigarette; when the fumes of sulphur match and a Lucky Strike, distorted her face and made her jump. “Daddy, why do you smoke those awful things?” That day he took my sister in his arms and vowed to never smoke again. And, no more coffee. No more beer. No more whisky. No more craps, no more cussing, no more poker, no more races. No more time, either, for me on my Dad’s knee. He taught me how to ride a bike, how to use hand tools and gardening tools, how to wash and wax a car, how to tune up a Chevy in-line six, how to change a tire and how to treat a woman. From the day he quit cigs, java and booze there were no more arms around me or hands on my shoulder. Pointing fingers and working hands. Arms were for hefting, hands were for tools, legs for lifting. Still, I loved being at his side whenever the chance. He taught me to drive, he taught me to shoot. How to whittle, how to “be a man”, how to brag, how to be humble. But never how to swing a bat, throw a ball, or catch a fish. He taught me how to show love, but never how to say it. He taught me how to shake hands, but not how to hug or embrace. Until I was nineteen, leaving home. He hugged me for the first and the last time, ever in my life. Twenty-three months later he died in a car crash on Thanksgiving Day. Two days later, I held his hard-working, calloused, cold dead hands, for the first and last time.
On my Dad’s Knee