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Missing Dad

December 26, 2022

Over 22 years ago, following a winter work trip to Tennessee, my dad picked me up at the airport. My wife was at the dentist with my youngest son.

I rode home with dad and he re-told stories, drive-glancing to make sure I was awake. And listening. He was a master re-teller.

Getting home was a guaranteed sit in the cold. I never carried keys when I traveled. That was taunting fate. Dad balked at leaving me at the house. He was dad. I couldn’t argue. I was exhausted and angry at my wife for not leaving him our key (she had, but took it back at his insistence the Sunday before) and at myself for not having my keys with me. And I couldn’t yell, scream, hold my breath, or stomp my feet. It was dad. And he was doing me a favor.

Finally home, the gods were to have more fun with me this day. My wife was not home, it was cold, and I just wanted to lay down in the grass, cool off, and wind down. And bang my head on the sidewalk. Sobbing. Dad wouldn’t have it. He took me to McD’s to get a cup of coffee. I got a sandwich, coke, and coffee… 15 minutes killed getting madder and more frustrated. And I could not yell or get mad at dad. He was doing me a favor. And THAT was starting to make me mad. So we went back to my house.

I’m not a linear thinker. This no-key lockout was a challenge… inconvenience a superior mind could surely overcome. Since dad was not going to let me cool off by myself, it was an ever more urgent challenge. No keys in the mailbox and no doors were unlocked. All easy windows are closed and locked. The bedroom windows were both unlocked. One was about 8 feet above the ground with an air conditioner in it. The other was about 12 feet off the ground with a roof just below it, but not easily scaled. I questioned whether it would hold me. I am not a linear thinker. No ladder, but having spent a summer studying for an AP test in Statistics, I’m in word problem mode. I can do this.

The back window was out of the question. I was afraid of the roof and there was no clear way to get on it. Dad offered his Dodge Aspire as an elevated foothold toward the roof. Hard pass. The gods had thrown this diversion at us in a moment of mischief. I enjoy a good joke as much as anyone, but I was too focused to kid around right now.
The other window was more in reach. And the air conditioner would come out that way. I remember when I put it in. It fell out the window. The cord kept it from smashing to the ground. I had a way in after removing the air conditioner. Triumph of superior mind.

I got the air conditioner out. Naturally, the cord held it… (those who forget history are destined to repeat it yada yada) Held it just short of anything to set it on, so dad held it. My 70-year-old dad. The neighbors had a folding wooden chair in their backyard. I’m in the zone. I got on the wooden chair. Too low. I put a 5-gallon bucket on the chair on the uneven ground. Not a linear thinker.

I had spent all summer studying for an AP Statistics test. I am rippling with standard deviations, normal curves, and formulae I don’t even remember the names for, and until that day, no practical application. I was in word-problem zone. I started calculating.

I am 6 foot. My dad was 5 foot and change. As near as I can figure, drawing heavily upon my statistics studies, dad and I had normal physiques. What I mean by that, statistically speaking, is that we were both shaped like bell curves. (No relation) What that means to a statistics student is that about 95% of our bodies could be found within two standard deviations of our median (middle). What that meant, at this point, was that there was a serious question beginning to nag me about either median getting through that window.

Dad’s standard deviation was smaller than mine. Smaller standard deviations mean the curve increases/decreases slower. If you think of the proportion of weight to height as 1:1, then in Dad’s proportion, his numerator is just somewhat larger than his denominator. I have a larger standard deviation. My numerator was also larger than my denominator. A lot larger than dad’s. The important thing to remember, if you are getting lost in the math, is that in this case, size mattered.

It was good, as things turned out, that dad was not that tall. It made all the difference. If that is confusing, don’t worry. Most people struggle with word problems. I was in a word-problem zone right then, and somehow it was all so clear. And comedy was set to erupt upon the neighborhood.

As I eyed the bucket and chair and uneven ground, Dad said no, I would break my neck. But who knows how long until my wife was home, so I stood on a bucket on a chair on uneven ground… and got my hands in the window, and I reached for strength I didn’t know I had, and my belly was on the window sill and my chest was in the window and I could see the prize. I got one standard deviation in the window. Three more to go and I was in, and rippling with math, I knew that after the next standard deviation, it would be easy. However, the part hanging out the window exerted more pull outward than the part hanging in the window exerted inward.

I was not in good shape and my energy faded quickly.. and just that close, it was a world away, and I tried to get in with everything I had… And everything I had would not fit in the window. I had fought the fine fight, and I had left nothing.. not one ounce of energy or strength to take me safely back to the ground. And I have to think that if it had ended right there, the neighbors would have gotten their money’s worth. I backed out… watched the inside of the house slip out of my scratched, bruised hands, arms, and second standard deviation.

Dad suggested I push him in. I told him that he was just as fat as me and would not fit in the window either. Dad did not understand standard deviations. I was pretty honest with him. I couldn’t rant and rave and yell and scream, but I could be honest. I didn’t think he would fit in the window. He told me to push. I pushed. And before long, dad was in the house. And I was tired, but mentally, the sweet aroma of success was swirling just below my nose, and I could literally smell it.

With 115 years of should-know-better struggling to force large round standard deviations into a small square window, comedy erupting was the best we could have expected. I came to accept that this afternoon would entertain generations at family gatherings. New urban legend. I was resigned to tellings and re-tellings from dad.
The scratches went away. The humor of the situation erased the crush of the day’s emotions. Hindsight always carries lots of small lessons.

I don’t have a lot of stories of me and my dad. He is no longer around, and I miss him and his stories. This one was all worth it. I’m glad, if it had to happen, I had dad to have it happen with. Joy lives in such moments. I miss my dad. And I passed my Statistics test.

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