It’s a little early to think about Halloween, but this story is ultimately about growing up with an extraordinary father.
Eighth grade is a weird time for Halloween. Eight-graders are caught between childhood and adolescence. They want to enjoy all the fun of a childhood Halloween and also enjoy the teenage and adult age fun of parties. It was the last year I tried to trick-or-treat. Over the summer, I’d become a six-foot-tall bass-baritone. I wondered if I could still pull it off one last time. I blew what little money I had on a hobo mask. Yes, this was a day when dressing like a homeless person for Halloween was acceptable. The mask was replete with a tattered cigar protruding from a weather-worn, unshaven rubber face.
I had agreed to be the test case for my friends who also wanted to trick-or-treat. With a paper grocery store bag in hand, I knocked on one door in my neighborhood and a guy answered. I said, “trick-or-treat” in my awkward bass voice.
He scoffed and said, “You gotta be crappin’ me, kid.”
Crestfallen and embarrassed, I said, “Sorry,” and that was the end of it.
But I wasn’t ready to give up on Halloween that night. This was a time in Norman when the city blocked off the streets of Campus Corner for a huge party. Campus Corner is the name for the lively commercial area just north of the University of Oklahoma campus. I don’t know when the city (or the university, not sure) began throwing these parties, but I know that it stopped soon after my eighth-grade Halloween in 1986.
I’d heard about it at school and asked my father if he would take my best friend and me over there to check it out. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I assume my twin brother and perhaps his best friend came as well.
Trick-or-treating was a social situation I was very familiar and comfortable with, but a block party? With high school and college kids? New ground. I was a little anxious, but I had my buddy with me. Certainly, we could navigate it together.
And then there was my dad. When you reach your forties and you have kids, something breaks down in even the coolest dad’s psyche. They stop caring what young people think about them. This was the case with my dad even more so than most. He had never been the cool dad from my perspective. I don’t recall him ever trying to be anything other than what he was. He didn’t drive a cool car. He didn’t have a cool job. He certainly didn’t dress in the cool-dad clothes. If I’d ever said, “Just be cool, Dad,” he would have grinned slyly and nodded with no intention–and perhaps no ability–to “be cool.” He had long since given up on the notion of being cool, and best I could tell, had been a miserable failure in his early attempts in high school and college. He was a goofball, and we made fun of him mercilessly for it. The chances that he would embarrass us that night were high– perhaps even unavoidable.
My social standing at the time was not terrible, but I was nowhere close to “cool kid” status and I was well-aware of that. I wondered if attending this blowout, block party might raise my social standing a little–especially if maybe my dad would drop us off and make himself scarce, but he would not agree to that. He would be with us every step of the way.
I ditched my mask and dressed to impress–the sting of “you gotta be crappin’ me, kid” still with me. My dad wore his beat-up, army-green jacket zipped snug to the top, Walmart jeans, and his cheap, black ambassador shoes. When we arrived, there was buzz and excitement everywhere. There was music blasting through the streets, perhaps even a live band. My friend and I walked together in the cool air up Asp Street and my dad trailed respectfully. But when we encountered a cluster of the Whittier Middle School girls we paused.
They weren’t just any girls. They were the cream of middle school, eighth-grade society. Perfectly teased hair, Guess jeans, beautiful–and terrifying. I seem to recall feeling as though our best move was to just turn around. I looked around to get my bearings. I’d never been to Campus Corner. The girls were standing right in front of an alley (Normanites will know it as the alley where the Sugars strip club still resides). No escape there. And Dad was behind us–at least I thought until we turned to discover that he was nowhere to be found. I felt both a thrill and a panic. On the one hand, we were flying solo and might avoid embarrassment. None of the other kids around were accompanied by a parent that we could see. But on the other hand, I had no idea where we were or where we might find him should we need to leave.
But suddenly, a man in a grotesque cyclops mask leaped from the alley, hands raised in the shape of claws, and made a loud, growly shout, but not to no one. No, this man had jumped out directly at the gaggle of the very girls we were trying to avoid. They jumped and screamed and then began laughing hysterically as my dad pulled off the mask and walked away from them toward us–a sly grin on his face.
I was horrified, but then something extraordinary happened. One of the girls, the coolest of the bunch called out to me. “Oh my God, is that your dad?! He is so cool!”
My dad. Cool. Hmmm. My mind turned on a dime from terror and embarrassment to “Whoa, did my dad just make me cool?”
If I had any kind of self-confidence to capitalize on the moment, I might have walked over to them, also laughing and say “Yeah. Best dad ever. You should have seen yourselves. He freaked you guys out big time! I’m David by the way.”
But no, I was still living in a kind of social paralysis with this upper-class of eighth-grade society. Instead, we began walking back to my dad’s powder-blue station wagon, my dad walking next to us.
“Dad?” I said, turning to him, “Did you have that mask this whole time?”
He held the mask to his chest and zipped his very “uncool” jacket up to the top and said, “Yup.”