Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dad's Sunday Dances

My father worked hard every day of his life. He never missed work, even when he was coughing up blood, and he wouldn't accept weakness from anyone in the family. He was a harsh disciplinarian that was quick to use the belt, but he always let you know he wasn't mad by laughing maniacally while he laid out the lashes.

 But every Sunday he became a different man. We would come home from church and my father would head into a back room, leaving us all to wait with mounting anticipation as he prepared his weekly outlet, sometimes for hours on end. He would always let us know when he was ready by banging on an old replica goatskin drum that he bought on vacation in Panama, and the room would grow silent.

My father would come running out of a back room in a frenzy, usually naked, wearing some kind of mask fashioned out of notebook paper and duct tape. He would dance stiff-legged like a zombie, moaning a hypnotic speechless drone that had us all mesmerized for hours. It would end as abruptly as it started, father's naked body soaked with sweat and smelling of humid genitals. We watched him collapse onto his stomach and slowly drag himself into a bathroom where he disappeared for the remainder of the evening. He never took off the mask, and he never spoke or broke character.

The next day at breakfast everyone would laugh and tell stories about the previous night's performance, everyone but my father that is. He would quietly read the newspaper and drink his coffee, never looking up to acknowledge our presence. Sunday night were the only time my father wasn't a disturbingly serious figure in the house, and it was 180 degrees from his normal personality. Those times were some of my favorite memories in my youth.

A few months ago my father passed away after a long battle with lung cancer, and for the first time in decades my whole family were reunited to organize the funeral. Everyone decided that I should be the one to eulogize him, probably because no one wanted the responsibility because they didn't know what to say. I stayed up for days trying to think of what to say, but I decided to tell the tale of my father's Sunday performances. I got up to the pulpit and poured out my heart about how my dad became a fantastic lively dervish, so contrary to his normal persona.

I had noticed that everyone remained very somber during my story, and I was disappointed that my mood wasn't more contagious. I had hoped for a more happy ceremony. After everyone left I found myself alone with my mother. She had handled the stress of all this so well. She looked at me and asked "Why did you tell everyone about our Sundays? I am surprised you would want to share those times..." I explained that I loved his alter ego, and he was so free and happy that I always wanted to remember him that way. That is when my mother explained that everyone at the funeral but me knew my father had an alcohol problem, but he was excellent at hiding the symptoms. He was so good at hiding it that most of the family decided that the whole thing was blown out of proportion, and he was probably not an alcoholic. That all changed when I told everyone all about my dad wearing a paper and duct tape mask while moaning and dancing naked for hours every Sunday night.

I love you, dad.

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