On Father’s Day – Ode to Dad

Today’s post is for a very special reader. He is my first and most loyal reader. Whenever I spend time with him, he comments on my most recent post and so this one is for him. It’s the Digi-Dad, My father. Since I’m not in physical proximity to hand a gift to him I’m writing an ode to Dad for this year’s father day.

Below is a picture of my father and I back-to-back. I am probably 18 years old. Our uncle is using my father’s cane to show that I am indeed, just a smidgen taller than my old man.

I’ve gained a lot from my father over the years. I think my love of writing first came from his influence. I can distinctly remember as a child (6 or 7 years old) professing that I wanted to be a stand up comedian when I grew up. Now that I’m older I can appreciate my father’s reaction. He didn’t wince or show any fear that his son was going to grow up traveling from bar to bar trying to earn money for laughs. Instead – he told me that to be a good comedian I first had to become an effective communicator and a good writer. In my minds ear I can hear him put emphasis and enunciation on “effective communicator” breaking out the syllables “commune-a-cat-or.” That can leave an impression on a kid growing up.

I can remember when my father taught me to ride a bike. We went to my elementary school on a weekend so the concrete playground was empty. He ran alongside me and without letting me know – just let go and continued keeping pace with the bike. Once I could bike my father would include me on his weekend ritual which consisted of going to the Santa Monica Pier and bike along Venice Beach and eat at the Boardwalk Cafe. Then we’d bike back to our car at the pier. For my father it wasn’t just about exercise – it was a community of people he would visit. He knew all the local panhandlers, artists, fortune tellers, etc. Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s if you went to Venice Beach you probably saw Scott the sand artist, George the Wizard and Joe the Tour Guide among other local fixtures. My father would chat with them every weekend to see how they were doing. One year George the Wizard (a fortune teller) even came to Thanksgiving. That was a trip 😉 To this day biking is one of my favorite exercise activities in part because I feel like it’s an instant way to get to know a community.

I’ll never forget the first lesson in driving my father gave me. It’s simple, effective and something I keep in mind to this day. Whenever you are behind the wheel, he said “assume everyone is an idiot.” He doesn’t mean that everyone in the world is actually an idiot – but when you are driving you have to assume that the other person is going to miss the stop sign, red light, forget who has the ride-away or any other number of dumb things. In short this line “assume everyone is an idiot” was his way of stressing defensive driving. It was small lessons like that and his ability to get them across that always had impact.

Man could my dad tell a story. I’ll never forget one Cub Scout camping trip when he told the story of the Black Momba (a deadly snake). He made every kid under the age of 9 cry. Being 11 at the time I thought my dad was the coolest. He was banned from telling scary stories at the next Cub Scout camping trip. How badass is that!

I also think my propensity for technology comes somewhat influenced from my father. An avid science fiction fan (like his mother) my father has always been an early adopter of technology. We had an Apple II C computer starting when I was about eight years old. Around 11 years old he taught me how to get online using Prodigy and after that America Online. In the early 90’s I also started noticing a bold neon magazine “Wired” would show up at our house.Working at Wired.com for awhile was really my first head-dive into the world of technology. I often say it was the saving grace of my career but it was also something that I knew my father was proud of. From then on he took a deep interest in all things digital that I participated in. I think my father’s appreciation for science fiction and technology come from a very intellectual place (he watches Wrestling too, so not everything is refined about him). His father was a renaissance man and a bit of an inventor and my father looks to these things as a way to glimpse into the future.

We would talk about these little things over the years whenever we’d go in the spa in our backyard. That was more or less where we did male bonding. It was where we talked about how I was doing in school, where he taught me about money management, talked to me about sex/drugs and all that other father/son stuff.

My father, for all his craziness, is a pretty wise guy. For all his apparent callousness (and he can be crass) is also very kind. Even after retiring he still volunteers at a nonprofit that provides free legal advice to those who can’t afford it. When he was more active he would even go to churches to provide similar legal advice.

Not only is he a good father, but also an admirable person. I don’t write about personal life too often on this blog nor do I intend to that often – but it’s important to put all that my father does in context. In the late 1980’s (I believe it was 88′) my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He continued to work until just 2-3 years ago. If you know about M.S. then you’d know it’s a tough disease and can be painful. You’d never hear my father really complain, at least not to me or my sister. Instead, he was a strong pillar for the family. He never backed down from the work that he loved or his family. He excelled in life despite all obstacles. You want to talk about somebody with steadfast determination and composure – my father is the guy. At times this can express itself as stubborness (and he can be a stubborn bastard) but I wouldn’t change him for the world.

So here’s to the Digi-Dad: Harold Jonas Cohn. Happy daddy day! I’ll see you in a few weeks when you come up north for the big event!