by John Sellers

Not long ago, I went to my cousin’s wedding in Colorado with my dad. It was the first I’d traveled anywhere with him since 1986, when we drove through a blizzard from Michigan to D.C. and he yelled, over a Don Henley song, “Semis! Goddamn semis! Aieee!”

My dad has five college degrees and is a former Lutheran minister, even though he has a terrible stutter. He combats the problem by modifying his speech patterns and using lines from his favorite books and movies to get his points across more speedily. For example, when he’s asked a question he doesn’t want to answer, he’ll just say, “And the tar baby, he don’t say nothin’.”

He’s also been a lumberjack, a New York taxi driver, a herpetologist, and, most recently, a data-entry clerk—jobs which, when combined with his natural shyness, have left him pretty much a recluse, someone who pops up in my life every now and then on email to give my brothers and me unsolicited updates on Bob Dylan.

One thing is constant: he has always been the worst gift-giver. He once came to a wedding bearing an unwrapped zucchini from his garden, plunking it down on the table and telling the happy couple he had given them “the fruit of the earth.” He once gave my mother a Snickers bar for Christmas. It was the only present he gave her that year. Another year he gave her a mood ring. They have long been divorced.

When he picked me up at the Denver airport, he leaned out of the rental car window and said, too loudly, “Here he be!” He was wearing a sweatshirt depicting a large image of a bald eagle. A familiar nasally whine emanated from the tape deck. I knew my dad was going to embarrass me at the wedding, but how? Would he suddenly start clipping his toenails the way he did at my Little League games? The hundreds of possibilities diminished once we stopped in Leadville.

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