How to Speak Dad

A brief lesson in paternal subtext

Photo by Stuart Miles/FreeRangeStock

With Father’s Day upon us, I figured it was as good time as any to reflect upon the subtle differences between how my father and I each use the English language.

EX. #1: “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

Me: “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

My dad: “I’m just going to lock myself in the bathroom for 45 minutes before we leave. Meetcha at the car. Also, keep your hands off the damn radio and I’m driving- I think I  speak for everyone in town when I say we don’t need a repeat of what happened last time.”

EX. #2: “I just bought some milk.”

Me: “I literally just walked in the door with a fresh carton of milk and put it in the fridge.”

My dad: “There’s a carton of milk in the back of the fridge behind the Clamato that dates back to the Clinton administration. I just used it with my coffee and it tastes perfectly fine so I don’t wanna hear any complaints. You’ve had it too good for too long. You want a handout, go loiter in front of the bus station like all the other freeloaders.”

EX. #3: “What are your plans for today?”

Me: “What are your plans for today? I’m just trying to make conversation.”

My dad: “Regardless of how you answer, I am about to rope you into a series of activities you will undoubtedly have to little to no interest in. In fact, you would probably enjoy being subjected to bizarre and decidedly aggressive medical experiments more than doing much of what I am about to suggest. Also, there is almost no way you will be able to talk yourself out of any of it, not even if you can somehow get yourself to bleed spontaneously mid-speech, so don’t bother trying. You are no match for me and we both know it.”

EX. #4: “Happy Father’s Day!”

Me: “Happy Father’s Day!”

My dad: “Whoop-dee-doo—someone screwed up and actually agreed to let you adopt a dog. I’ve pretty much come to accept that maybe a wife and kids aren’t in the cards for you. And, hey, that’s fine – family and stability and all that aren’t for everybody. Most people, sure, but I guess not you. Your siblings are all happily married with kids and four out of five ain’t bad, I figure. Oh, and thanks for the gift card. I guess I could use it to buy some socks. Do I need more than socks? Of course I do. But apparently you don’t realize that or otherwise you would have put more money on the card. Oh, well, whatever—I guess I should just recognize that this is one of those ‘it’s the thought that counts’ things. Count my blessings, or cut my losses, whichever comes first. Also, real cute dog you got there. I’m not crazy about what she just did to my rug, but still real cute.”

Dave Hill is a comedian, writer, and musician living in New York City. His second collection of essays, Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Blue Rider Press) is out now. How to Speak Dad