Today, I’ve got something different for you.
I’d like to introduce you to my dad.
With Father’s Day around the corner, of course he’s on my mind, but he is also wrapped around everything I am trying to achieve with this blog.
My dad passed away when I was thirteen. Losing him was hard, and it was one of the things that tipped me over into my first major depression.
My dad was a wonderful and hard man to live with. His sense of right and wrong was like granite. He would go to the ends of the earth to do right by his family, but he didn’t really believe in forgiveness or acceptance, for himself or for others.
My dad was also bipolar. That meant my siblings and I were more than twice as likely as the average kid to develop severe mental illness (that is, bipolar depression, unipolar depression, or schizophrenia), and eight times more likely to have ADHD.
Many issues connected to my dad – the need to understand the effects of emotional trauma, the skill development required for grieving, forgiving, and accepting, and the tools necessary to overcome genetic and biological obstacles – are what we need to talk about in order to get a handle on mental illness.
But there is something more, and with Dad on my shoulder, this is the perfect time to bring it up.
We need to be able to flip our suffering upside down once in a while and look into its bunghole to find the light.
Because even though I am a neurological mess, I can be funny, too. At least 35% of the time.
So could my dad.
And while sometimes I need to talk about my hard stuff to help illuminate yours, I also need to make you smile. That is the only real thing that keeps us from being victims.
Laughter is a leap of faith. You have to open yourself up to receive it. It is a choice. You need to decide that you are secure enough to touch the things that make you squirm. If you do, and find the ridiculous in your pain, you will shatter the shame that keeps you stuck.
Laughter dissolves misery. We all need that.
I am bringing up the funny around my dad because it helps me remember that I am more than a kid with a wonky brain. I am the daughter of a one-of-a-kind man who was smart, passionate, and quirky as hell.
When I think of Dad from all angles, I know that in spite of what went wrong, he loved me, and all of us around him. I believe he still does.
To honour that, and to balance my message, I’m sharing an essay I wrote about him. I think is as important as anything in the mental health conversation.
I hope you enjoy it, and that it helps you sniff out the farts in your own disasters and laugh about them, with the lack of respect they are due.
Hot Diggety Dad
A lot of the comfort that Dad left behind for us exists in objects. These articles were special to our family: things that he built, restored, or scrounged up from God knows where.
Each of these things symbolized something unique about Dad: his huge imagination, his brilliance for design, his eye for the potential in something broken, or his hilarious glee at discovering an item for sale that he wished he had invented.
One thing Dad snatched up like a feverish pirate was the Hot Diggety Dogger. It was basically a toaster, but instead of having two long slots to drop your bread into, it had two round holes for wieners and two big half-moons slots for buns.
With this genius contraption, he could make both the essential parts of his all-time favorite meal with a single, satisfying thunk of a lever.
Everybody knew that Dad loved hot dogs. If hot dogs had needed child support, he would have found a way. No one would have batted an eye if hotdogs had been named in the will. It was a surprise that all three of us kids escaped a meaty namesake; there is thankfully neither an Oscar, nor a Meyer, among us.
Dad demanded that his hotdogs be crispy. He quickly dominated the Hot Diggety Dogger’s anemic settings by developing a special technique. This consisted of pulling out the buns after the first cooking cycle and leaving in the meat for an extra “bing” or two. He toasted and re-toasted his pork cigars until the drip tray ran with salty rivulets and the air hung thick with the smell of bacon’s tubular little brother.
I’m not going to lie; Dad’s dogs were good. Damn good. Those crackly, crisp tubes of ground pig lips got sublimated into hot dog heaven.
The Hot Diggety Dogger’s existence was a metaphysical wonder, like some being of the highest evolution had reached into Dad’s technicolour mind, pulled out a dream, and made it real. He loved that thing.
And I loved him.
Ever since, I have appreciated a nicely crisped meaty morsel on a golden-toasted bun. Much to my delight, my stepmom let me take the Hot Diggety Dogger with me when I moved out. It was one of my prized possessions.
I’m pretty sure that the first meal I made for my roommate, Lucas, was Hot Diggety Dogs. He may have thought I was a tiny bit nuts as I tried to prepare him for the pure, crisp-salt-smoke satisfaction he was about to experience.
“Sure, I like hot dogs,” he shrugged, like someone who had no idea that his mind was about to be blown.
I’m guessing that my eyes were as demented as Gollum’s as I gingerly struggled the apparatus out of its tight cardboard cocoon.
There may have been some muttering under my breath like, “Mmm… Crackled skin… Ooooo… One more cycle! …Oh my god, it smells like bacon!”
My mind would have raced while I waited endless minutes for our smoked puree of unmentionable animal parts to alchemize into condiment-drizzled bliss.
Finally, we would have eaten.
But Lucas, one of my truest, most cherished friends, had thought the Hot Diggety Dogs were just okay. He continued to boil his wieners in a pot. Like a total chump.
Somehow, we managed to stay friends.
Oh well. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him classy.
Speaking of classy, I was at the discount grocery store the other day. I was pushing a squeaky cart with my runny-nosed girls in the classiest way possible, when a vision arrested me: there, inside a gleaming, red, brushed-stainless case, sat a modern version of our sacred appliance.
But it was all wrong. Someone had pathetically renamed it, “hot dog toaster.” I mean, come on; where’s the poetry? That’s like a name that got translated from another language. You might as well call it, “depress-lever cooker of mixed meat cylinders.” Total lack of reverence. Disgraceful.
Although my face was crunched into a “Tsk”, my neck was peppered in goosebumps.
Dad has been gone for twenty-two years, and all that time I have been dreaming of running into him somewhere, feeling a wave of recognition and longing crash over me like thunder.
And there he was. Hot Diggety Damn.