If the bus was on time, we only spent about 10 or 15 minutes in the car each morning, but my dad was a morning person and I think we both looked forward to starting off the day with a goof off session – being silly is in our genes.
We had moved when I was eight years old, so instead of living in a blue collar neighborhood in suburban Pennsylvania where mystery-cartoon-addicted children built traps for their neighbors, we now lived in a middle-class neighborhood in suburban PA. We had a creek in the back yard, trees spattered all around the yard and meddling neighbors who liked to gossip about the quality of other neighbors’ lawn care practices. It was idyllic. Our house was at the end of a cul-de-sac and while the bus stop was only a two-minute drive from the house, it was nice to joke around with my dad and listen to some wacky morning radio before I set off for school and he made his way toward what I can only assume was a stressful, thankless job.
Some days, I would sit in the passenger seat (it was the 80’s after all, none of that “kids sit in the back seat of the car in a booster chair until they’re 17 years old” nonsense) and have to navigate to make it to the bus stop.
“Go left,” I would tell my dad, to make sure he steered the car along the gracefully curved road of our quiet and meticulously-designed neighborhood. But since I didn’t say anything about following the curve in the road, my dad would pretend like he was about to make a hard left into a neighbor’s driveway.
Hilarity – at least in the car – ensued.
These bus-stop rides pretty much lasted until I was a sophomore in high school. For years, we listened to some sound-effect-heavy (baZOOOOba!) morning zoo crew on Q102 and made dumb jokes about their even dumber jokes. Through all those years of jibberjabbering – 50 minutes a week for five years – I don’t remember the details of a single conversation we had.
It was a fateful day in the Honda Accord as we sat on the corner of Saint Andrews Drive. The sky was blue, the sun shone bright and the birds were chirping. But all of that would soon come to a screeching halt.
My dad and I were engaged in the usual absurd banter.
“But why is it called a porcupine when pork comes from pigs?” my dad asked.
Even as a kid, I was not inclined to giggle and my eye-roll/smirk combo signified my appreciation for the joke.
“Don’t be a dipstick,” I said, smiling at my dad.
I don’t know where I got the word dipstick. That is, I’m fairly certain, a word I had never used before that morning. I know it’s a word I have never used since. Maybe I had watched a lot of Eerie, Indiana the night before and (my TV crush of the moment) Marshall said it. Beats me. But “dipstick” was the word I had intended to use when responding to my dad’s waxing philosophic on the naming criteria for animals.
Except “dipstick” is most definitely not what I said.
“Don’t be a dick,” I said to my dad.
And thus began the most uncomfortable four minutes of my life. We waited in a thick silence for the bus to arrive. I was mortified that I had somehow said the “D-word” – and to my father, no less! When I was trying to say dipstick, I got a little dyslexic and was about to spit out “dickstip”…but my tongue got caught as soon as the first syllable tumbled out of my stupid mouth.
My dad didn’t say anything to me. I was too embarrassed by the notion of what a dick actually was to even try explaining myself. And so, it was that moment my dad thought I had called him a dick. I have carried around the shame and guilt of that morning in the car for 27 years of my life. But my family is Irish and this is just another memory to bury under the Blarney Stone or whatever. We will never speak of it again.
I have often wondered what the rest of that day was like for my dad. Did he wonder how his young, innocent daughter could say something like that to him? Was he hurt? Was he angry? I remember that I was terrified. I was scared that he would tell my mom and she would go ape-shit, because we weren’t even allowed to use the lord’s name in vain in our house. I was afraid that things would never be the same during our bus-stop car rides again. I was afraid that he would never joke around and say something goofy for fear that I was judging him.
Turns out I didn’t have to start forming my ulcer then because my dad remains to this day a goofy guy who likes to tell funny stories and throw out zany hypothetical situations regarding animals and their naming conventions. But that day in the car will always stick with me.