My dad left behind some amazing sounds that still reverberate with those of us who loved him. Like his laugh – you could see his wisdom teeth when he really got going. That and his nose hairs. That was it. His nostrils flared and his mouth gaped and the rest of his face was swallowed up in the enormity of that laugh. He’d clutch his ribs and bend over for a minute, like the universe was about to tear through the fabric of his button-up shirt. Then he’d throw his head back and have another round. It was incredible.
My dad could also drink your dad under the table. I’m not speculating, this is fact. You did not want to be the only one around when he made a batch of “Grasshoppers,” his signature summertime swill. One bottle of rum, one can of frozen lime juice, and one bottle of 7Up. He’d swirl it all together and throw it in the freezer until it turned into slush, then let it loose on friends who happened by. Those babies went down easy on a hot day. I know because he’d let me “have a lick” from the rim of his glass, and it never curled my toes like the smell of my mom’s beer. Dad would sit out at the picnic table in front of our campsite, spooning this green gasoline between his lips and chuckling, and even when he was already a glass or two ahead, no one could keep up. I watched faces get rosy and knees turn to jelly as unsuspecting buddies tried. More savvy pals cut themselves off and brought their own Coors Light instead. Dad might spend 45 minutes banging around the motorhome looking for his glasses (which were inevitably perched upon his shiny head), his voice might get a bit loud, or he might throw a couple of razor-wit jokes at us kids and cackle while they whooshed a mile above our heads. But otherwise, you’d never know my dad was smashed. My brother seemed to somewhat inherit this power, but if you know me you know I did not.
I also can’t think about summer without seeing my dad’s short, black-pelted, carved-mahogany thighs in his homemade denim hotpants. Sometimes people are like, “Oh yeah, my dad wore cut-offs,” but I promise you, you have no idea. Firstly, a frayed hem had no place in dad’s impeccable wardrobe. He taught himself to sew so he could fix car upholstery. He started making his own indigo butt-huggers because men’s bathing suit fashion stopped understanding him sometime in the ‘60s, when men stopped wearing stripey one-pieces to the beach but still lifted weird-shaped lead weights and shouted a lot with workouts. My dad was only a nostril-hair taller than me at 5’3”, and he was ripped. Big V shoulders, a teeny-tiny waist, and arms and legs balled with muscle more akin to tire rubber than human flesh. His thighs leaped out of his hotpants like they were looking for a fight. I think he felt like a fore-shortened slob in floppy trunks, and the Euro-speedo look would have been just so, so wrong when he was pull-starting the other dad’s chainsaws. His only choice was to water ski, drink, and flex his brownness all summer long in the world’s most meticulously hemmed, groin-strangling Wranglers.
I tried to wear the hotpants once. I shouldn’t say tried. My hand was forced. I forgot my bathing suit for a weekend of family camping, and it was a bajillion degrees hot on Sylvan Lake. Everyone was going out to ski, and I was drowning in my own personal pit-lake and dying loudly of FOMO. Dad looked at me like I was being a drama queen (maybe I was) and strongly insisted I just shove my squishy ass into his spare pair of teste-shapers and just get out there like a proper daughter. Nevermind that at 12 years-old, I nearly outweighed him, and with 97% less muscle. For one brief second, I saw the roll in his eyes and thought maybe I was having a case of body dysmorphia. Maybe I was slim enough to wear my father’s painted-on man-panties. Everyone always said I had his legs.
Turns out maybe they meant his leg hair. I couldn’t do up the button of those demon things, and the zipper gave out halfway to the dock. My thighs sausaged out of the hems tightly enough to keep the shorts up and the bottom-most part of my crack covered, so I pulled down my shirt and prayed no one would notice. But that violent junction of cotton and flesh caused a numbness in my legs that cut my “carefree” ski short. By the time we got back, there was a disconcerting blue tinge beneath my sasquatch fur. I slunk into the motorhome and panicked when I couldn’t rip them off, picturing my dad refusing to cut them off of my now blackening legs to punish me for being such a doughy disgrace. But with enormous luck (and probably a stamp on my guardian angel’s “humiliating tasks” card), I somehow squeezed free. My limbs didn’t get amputated and my dad’s pride and joys were still intact. Though maybe a bit stretched out.
I still can’t figure out if he actually thought I would fit into his homunculus hotpants – did he have some kind of weird, reverse body image mis-perception of me? Or had he been too focused on ending the drama to consider the physics of the situation? Either way, I was humiliated, but in that nice, private way where no one else knows but you that you would do unspeakable things to get your father’s figure.