Words My Father Taught Me

22 December 2005 · 8 comments

“Think it’ll rain?”

That’s what my father always said on days like today, days on which the rain fell long and hard, days on which the fields and ditches flooded, spilling into the road so that small streams formed on hills, days on which even an Oregonian craved an umbrella.

“Think it’ll rain?” was one of Dad’s mantras. It’s from him that I gained much of my sense of humor (which isn’t necessarily a good thing): the dumb observations and, especially, the use of repetition. (I often think to myself that repetition is the cornerstone to humor. Kris disagrees. You can imagine how she suffers.)

This cartoon has always reminded Kris of our relationship.

Another of Dad’s chestnuts was “should we make like a tree and leaf?” whenever it was time to go home. I’ve heard countless variations of this from other people, but that was Dad’s particular favorite.

Some of the things he said all the time weren’t particularly nice. When a family member did something dumb, he’d say, “If you had a brain, you’d take it out and play with it.” Sometimes to Mom he’d say, “Dumb woman — that’s like saying woman twice.”

I’d repeat this stuff to my friends, and sometimes to my friends’ parents. I can remember one instance during high school in which I used the “dumb woman” bit when a friend’s mother did something silly. (And this was a smart woman, a woman I respected.) It didn’t even occur to me that I was being misogynist. This stuff was bred into me, just as was a low-level racism and a low-level hatred of gays. (I’m happy to report that I seem to have shed most of the vestiges of these prejudiced ways.)

Dad was a good guy, and funny, and I have a great fondness for those little phrases he used to say all the time, but he was also something of a jerk.

1 deb roth December 22, 2005 at 23:15

Ron told me about this sight in November when you had the Roth men posted, I read it and cried. I love your memoirs of the past, since some of it relates to my past too. However, I had a different perspective on some things, but not this one. My dad was the same way (must be a family trait). One of his favorites was “you’re not as dumb as you look” or “you’re dumber than you look” depending on the situation. Humor…laced with condescension.

2 Jeff December 23, 2005 at 07:25

Hi Debbie!

I was trying to remember a few dad-isms myself… when we were very young, if we would ask him a ‘why’ question, he would usually respond with, “to make little kids like you ask questions”.

I also remember him driving down the road, moo-ing at the cows, bah-ing at the sheep, and quacking at the ducks… something I now do, and something Noah does, too. :-)

3 Tiffany December 23, 2005 at 08:19

I smile at your jokes even when Kris does not. Uncle Bob makes a lot of silly jokes and they make me smile everytime. I do not remember him ever being mean.

4 Lisa December 23, 2005 at 09:16

So, what I want to know is how your friend’s mother responded to your “dumb woman” comment. Do you remember?

5 J.D. December 23, 2005 at 09:19

As I recall, Lisa, she didn’t respond at all, other than a disapproving look. She is a wise woman, and knew my father well. She probably knew that the son was merely aping what he’d heard at home, and probably also knew that in time I would become wiser. Seriously. She had done a fine job with her children, and it’s not like I was a bad kid. I’d like to think that her patience has been rewarded!

6 J.D. December 23, 2005 at 09:22

Okay, the whole “your comment must be approved” thing is driving me nuts, too. What I want is a whitelist, a list of commenters for which MT will automatically publish comments without waiting for my approval. In theory, it’s already got that, but I can’t get it to work. It wants me to approve everything. So, I’m turning off the spam protection again. If I get hit too bad, I’ll just turn it back on.

7 Nick December 23, 2005 at 11:25

You may have aped your father, JD, but they were aping their father also. Grandpa said many similar things. I remember as a young man he asked me if I knew anything about income taxes and when I replied that I did not he looked and me and asked, “Well, what good are you?” I just kind of laughed but had to think that such things said to young children could be quite harmful to their self-esteem.

Several years after that my young nephew received a hammer as a gift. He was thrilled with it and was going around showing it off and asking if it was really his. I replied, “Unless so-and-so is an Indian giver.” After I said that I thought it wasn’t really a good thing to be saying. I had that expression many times growing up and had never thought about what it really meant. I had never occurred to me how blatantly racist it was. It really made me pause as I didn’t think of myself as a racist person but here was this expression I had been using without given any thought to what it really meant. I quit using that expression and it caused me to look more closely at other such sayings that were a part of my vocabulary.

We certainly are products of our environment. And in the Roth family we were taught racism, sexism, etc., as a byproduct of the language and expressions used. I don’t think there was really any ill-intent in all this. I think it was more a case of ignorance. And that is a good thing as ignorance can be overcome with education.

8 John December 23, 2005 at 21:06

Evidently, moo-ing at cows isn’t just a Roth trait. I do it too.

So far, no cow has responded in kind. All I get a dumb looks.


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