Things were not the same after Dad moved out. Shortly after he left, I ran into the bedroom my Mom and Dad had shared and opened up each drawer of the wooden chest of drawers where my Dad kept his clothes one by one. The drawers were empty. He really was gone. The drawers were just like the empty spot in my heart.
Then I dashed into the living room and rifled through the records. I found all the familiar Beatles albums, along with Janice Joplin Cheap Thrills and Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, and the albums from musicals such as Sound of Music, West Side Story, South Pacific, and Oliver! I knew and loved them all, but I also knew that Dad’s favorites were the big band music albums from the 1940s and an album we’d listen to often called “Bill Justice Plays 12 Hits,” all musical songs such as Green Onion, Alley Cat, and Rinky Dink. Then I saw it—one of our favorites which we all listened to together, laughing our heads off. It was the Spike Jones album. I took it out and looked at the fun, crazy album cover—Spike Jones and gang, all with enormous heads and little bodies. The picture reminded me of Mad Magazine.
I held the Spike Jones record close to me as I remembered the song, “All I Want to For Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth,” which Dad had played for us repeatedly. Still holding the record close, I hid it in one of my dresser drawers underneath clothes, figuring that as long as the record was still here, Dad would still return.
Dad showed up to visit us the weekend after he left. He was supposed to arrive at 10:00 a.m. but showed up at around 11 am, and when we opened the door, he smiled at us with that handsome childish grin and said, “Running a little folks!” We didn’t care that he was late. We were just happy to see him. The “Running a little late folks” statement became a running joke between all of us. Every time Dad called us on the phone, he’d say, “Running a little late folks!” and we’d laugh. Mom did not like the fact that he was late, though I could not figure it out.
Dad took us on adventures almost every weekend. Sometimes if it rained, we’d go to the office where he worked by the San Francisco Zoo, play board games and cards, and wheel the office chairs around the office. He’d take us to the movies, and to Frontier Village in San Jose. We only got to ride in a car when Dad visited because my mother did not drive. When Dad dated other women, he would introduce the lady to us and ask us later what we thought of her. We always gave honest opinions. “Oh Dad, that woman is a little nutty.” Or, “Dad, she’s really nice.” Our favorite girlfriends were Jean and Melania. Not only were they pretty, but they were always nice to us kids.
We had many adventures with my dad, who took us hiking at Mt. Tamalpias, to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and to fancy restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf for our birthdays. We tried buffalo stew at Tommy’s Joint, to the San Francisco Zoo.
At night, we’d go for drives through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Dad would always turn off the car lights on this one particular stretch of road that had no street lights. In the pitch dark of the car, he’d yell out this creepy, dramatic laugh that always made us jump, even though we knew what he was going to do.
Dad always wanted to be an actor from the time he was a little boy. He said he’d read comics to his Mother and use dramatic voices for each of the characters. He’d go to the movies every week, and when he was 14 years old, he landed his very first job as an usher at the movie theater. Then he dragged us to plays and musicals, especially the ones he acted in.
My Dad showed up. Every week, we could count on him no matter what else he did.