Nine Great Quotes from My Father

Me and the old man, circa 1975

This list is a little late for Father's Day, but nevertheless, it's a tribute to my Norwegian-born dad and his occasionally eccentric way of putting things, either because English is his second language or because, well, he just sees the world in a unique way. Over the years, these nine phrases are among the ones I remember the most:

  1. "Eat the meat. That's where the money is." When I was a boy, my father took me out to lunch every Sunday. Eventually we graduated to spicy Szechuan food, but during the early years, it was mostly hamburgers. Whenever I'd start getting full of my burger, this is what my ever-thrifty father told me to do: forget about the worthless bun, and make sure that meat doesn't go to waste.
  2. "The pretty girls can be just as agreeable as the ugly ones." Encouraging dating advice for the lonely bachelor.
  3. "Did you step on a frog?" My father would ask this evocative question whenever he heard, or smelled, a fart in the vicinity.
  4. "Did you go poo poo?" Pappa never fully outgrew the term "poo poo" for the common bowel movement. If you are about to embark upon a long journey with my father, he will inevitably ask you this shortly before your departure.
  5. "Is the food growing in your mouth?" This phrase vexed me for years - and, I learned, it vexed my father's wife as well. We both correctly interpreted this mealtime query as "Are you getting full?" But the metaphor itself was lost on us. I thought my dad meant, "Has the food filled up your stomach and is rising up through your esophagus into your mouth?" His wife thought he meant, "Have you been chewing on the food for so long that it is growing mold in your mouth?" What my father actually meant was, "Is the food getting larger and larger in your mouth with every bite?"
  6. "Rock and roll will come and go, but Beethoven is forever." My father, the classical music snob. He said this back in the early 1980s. I believe his stance has softened a little since then, and he has accepted that the Beatles' music, at least, might stick around for a while.
  7. "Her eyes are getting smaller." Another cryptic one, usually muttered whenever his wife would start falling asleep at the table, in the car, or wherever.
  8. "Vodka is only a drink for drunks." Pops coined this one within the past year. A longtime connoisseur of fine spirits, my father agrees with my wife on this one thing: that if you're drinking liquor, it is best to eschew this flavorless Russian beverage and opt for something more distinguished and complex, such as gin.
  9. "You look like a gutted fish." Not the best line to close with, but the other chestnuts are floating in a fog somewhere in the back of my memory and I can't access them just now. This strange expression of my father's comes from the '80s, when I had a habit of wearing zip-up hoodies (a good twenty years before they became popular, so I can now say I was way ahead of my time although in reality I was just fashion-clueless). Pappa couldn't wrap his head around the concept of jackets with zippers, and since my sweatshirts were usually unzipped to reveal my awesome Ocean Pacific T-shirts underneath, I apparently looked to his Norwegian eyes like a dead salmon.