By Joanna Owusu
When I was eleven, my science class incubated chicken eggs and watched the chicks hatch. After the eggs hatched, the teacher let kids volunteer to take the chicks home. We weren’t a family with a lot of animals, but my parents let me take two home. Maybe because we didn’t have a family pet, I doted on those chicks. I remember rocking them and singing them lullabies. And I came up with cute names for my pet chicks: Hooter and Pecker.
A few moments after telling my parents my darling chicks’ names, I noticed my dad laughing. I looked up a minute later and he was laughing so hard tears were STREAMING DOWN HIS CHEEKS. I had no idea why this was so funny until the memory popped into my head when I was 18 or 19, and the light bulb went off.
As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad. Maybe it’s a phenomenon unique to childhood: not fully comprehending certain moments you experience until you’re an adult, reflecting back on it. And only now, at the ripe age of 44, do I recognize how funny my dad was.
Case in point. My parents had a lazyboy recliner in their bedroom that my brother and I used to fight over. It was upholstered in brown stripes and my mother loathed it, but it was also the most comfortable chair in the house, and my brother and I both loved to read in it. I was in that chair every chance I could get, sometimes when my dad was getting out of the shower. Before he would streak by in the nude on the way to his closet, he’d holler out, “Close your eyes, Joanna, or get the THRILL OF YOUR LIFE!” Another one of his favorites was, “Close your eyes, or see the EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD!” I would dutifully close my eyes until I got the all clear.
I’ve come to realize, now that I’m married and raising three kids, that my dad was a bit of an anomaly. Mom was the chef in our house, but dad always did the dishes. After big family meals when other men in the family would go park it on the couch, my dad bellied up to the sink and went to work scrubbing. Dad changed diapers and wiped bottoms and fed us dinner on nights when my mom worked late. I grew up in the 80s and 90s when plenty of men were starting to pull their weight on the home front. But I think my dad was ahead of his time.
He was progressive, body positive, and open-minded. I hit the dorm buffet a little too hard my freshman year and came home packing the freshman twenty pounds. I’d also developed some serious acne thanks to raging hormones and living in Houston humidity. I was in a dark place that summer, before I got healthier and saw a dermatologist. Dad could see that I was struggling. I remember him telling me he would think I was the best daughter in the world if I was a 500-pound zit.
Not once in my youth did he engage in that patriarchal “You date my daughter, I get my shotgun” baloney. I remember my college boyfriend visiting, eating dinner at a restaurant with my parents and my grandmother. My parents had met my boyfriend a few times but we were all still a bit nervous. I was talking about how I couldn’t get my boyfriend to eat broccoli, even though everyone knows it’s one of the most nutritious vegetables. And my dad says, “Broccoli’s great, you should have some! It’ll make your dick hard!!” Cue choking on bites of broccoli (probably), nervous laughter, and my face turning scarlet red. Bill McFarland remains legendary among my college friends after they heard the story.
A year later, and my dad is helping me pack up my things after summer break to head back to college. I’m taking a load of clothes to the car and come back to find he’s taken my stereo from my bedside table to the car. And under the stereo, we’d left a condom. A condom he must’ve seen on the now-bare table. Not a word did he say. I imagine my parents said something to each other along the lines of, “Glad she’s using protection!”
It bears mentioning that my college sweetheart is now my husband, and he happens to be black. I fell hard for the smokin’ hot guy that lived down the hall in our co-ed dorm. I understood history and racism and I guess I knew some people’s parents might have a problem with their daughter dating a black guy. But I can honestly say it never crossed my mind that my parents would have any kind of reaction to my bringing him home. And they didn’t.
“Bill McFarland jokes” are a thing in my house, today and forever. Fart jokes and self-deprecating humor and wisecracks about the size of your endowments.
On this Father’s Day, I want to give props to all the enlightened, progressive, body positive, open-minded dads. I was lucky to have one, and to marry one.
And dads, don’t forget to eat your broccoli.
About the Author
Joanna McFarland Owusu is a freelance writer/editor based in Dallas, Texas. A federal government analyst in a former life, she now spends most of her time wrangling two not-so-little boys and a preschool daughter. Her work has appeared on Huffpost, Scary Mommy, Bust, and Mamalode.