As a kid, before I knew better, I tried to converse with my father about a variety of topics important to me: school, friends, bad test scores, bony knees, kid stuff – the kind of things that really need to be talked out in order to make sense of them. I remember the first time I tried to establish verbal contact with my dad.
He was reading a book at the dinner table. Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed my mother's waving arms, signaling that what I was going to attempt to do – communicate with my father – was not advisable and, in fact, had never before been attempted at the dinner hour by any living family member.
I recall thinking that my mother resembled Martha Graham in her fluidity of movement, obviously missing the point of her well-choreographed warning.I pulled up a chair, briefly gave my mother one last puzzled glance and cleared my throat to get the patriarch's attention.
Slowly he looked up at me, and I was met with the intense look that felons have often encountered as my lawyer father prosecuted them for the crimes they had committed but never admitted. For moments on end I held on to the belief that I had this hero's undivided attention and that we would soon engage in meaningful dialogue. Our eyes locked. I held my breath, waiting for the cue to share my life. I was willing to take whatever sage advice he was ready to dispense. He seemed to know my every thought, my every feeling. We were bonded through our shared heritage. This was a memorable moment, and his words would be formed in the Etch-A-Sketch that was my mind. I'll never forget what my dear papa said to me: “Have you brushed your teeth today?”
Now I know that fathers and daughters have a tough time conversing, and I suppose my father wasn't usually in close enough physical proximity to get a dental report from me. But, be that as it may, he seemed to be avoiding the issue, as they say in psychology classes. I wanted communication, for Pete's sake, not an Ultra Brite commercial!
Now, speaking of logic, or not having any, I continued to approach my father with a variety of concerns throughout my youth, and I got the same response time after time. Pretty soon when I wanted to talk to my father, I just went ahead and cut out the middleman, as it were, and brushed my teeth instead. Meditating in the foamy oblivion that is the tooth-cleaning process can actually provide one with an ample amount of time for mulling over problems and concerns, as well as making substantial headway in the never-ending fight against demon dental decay.
By the time I had rinsed, spit and tapped my toothbrush on the sink twice, I generally had come up with some sort of conclusion – usually that I was almost out of toothpaste and that I really needed to get a hobby. I never told my father that he is wholly responsible for my tantalizing smile and that it is the first thing that folks notice about me when we meet.
When I was a kid, I just wanted my dad to allow my teeth their fuzziness so my mind could be a little less so. I know that four out of five dentists probably recommend the “Did you brush your teeth?” approach to parenting and therapy and that their kids more than likely never get a straight answer either, but the approach defies logic.
My dad has been gone for almost four years now, having died on my mom's birthday after the family had been together for one last, poignantly memorable celebration with him.I no longer have him around to remind me to brush my teeth or, for that matter, to remind me that I'm someone's little girl. I miss those things.
He may not have dispensed the sage advice that I sought, but to this day, when I miss my father, I can almost taste the fluoride.
Diane Dean-Epps is a comedienne and writer. Contact her at www.dianedean epps.com.