I was ten years old, lying on the couch reading an Archie comic book. (I am embarrassed to admit that I liked Veronica more than Betty.) My father came in wearing Ward Cleaver’s face: “Brett, put your novel away. There’s something I should have talked to you about by now, but I’ve been putting it off, because I wasn’t sure you were old enough to understand. We’re going to have a conversation I think you’ll always remember.”
I was thinking what you are thinking. My father just offered Andy Taylor’s introduction to the birds-and-the-bees talk. What I wanted to say was, “Dad, you gave this speech a month ago. I don’t want to hear it again. You said that if I had questions I should check back. I will never do that, but I appreciate the offer.”
How could my father forget that we already had this discussion? (“Discussion” means he talked and I listened.) And yet, inexplicably, he had forgotten. It was going to be at least five tortuous minutes before I learned who Archie was taking to the big dance at Riverdale High.
I expected to hear, “When a man and a woman love each other very much” but Dad opened with, “It’s time to talk about how an airplane flies.”
He had several model airplanes with him. My father gave a speech that lasted longer than five minutes: “An airplane flies because its wings create lift, the upward force on the plan, as they interact with the flow of air around them. The wings alter the direction of the flow of air as it passes.”
When I thought he would be getting to “a woman is different from a man” he was saying, “The exact shape of the surface of a wing is critical to its ability to generate lift. The speed of the airflow and the angle at which the wing meets the oncoming air stream contribute to the amount of lift generated.”
We did not get to first dates or anything interesting, but Dad covered drag, acceleration, and aeronautical theory.
Forty-six years later I more often recall Dad’s “how planes fly” sermon than his “where babies come from” speech. I appreciate the “everything you always wanted to know about aviation” address, because it was my father at his most authentic. He worked hard to pass down his love for model airplanes (we tried, but I never got it), the Dallas Cowboys (my teenage rebellion was rooting against America’s Team), westerns (I like The Searchers), and Frank Sinatra (I’m right with dad on Ol’ Blue Eyes).
Good fathers share what they love. Father’s Day is a chance to be thankful for every good gift our fathers tried to give us — even the flying lessons that never got off the ground.
Note: The photo above is a clever re-creation of a 1971 conversation.