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  • Kristan Higgins

And then there was Dad…

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Since I wrote about Sainted Mother last week, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my dad, gone these many years. He was tall and handsome, and my nephew looks so much like him, it warms my heart. My son has his grandfather’s smile and bone structure. I always thought my dad looked like a cross between Peter O’Toole and Elvis Presley.

You can imagine that my father would have to be a bit…adventuresome…to marry my mom, who, as meticulously detailed throughout the years, can be called a thrill-seeker / outlaw / hooligan. Dad had some of that, too, though it was a bit more elegant (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true. The po-po never had to be called for Dad).

Dad was…well, he was not above assuming a different identity. Note how I avoided the word “lying” there. For example, Dad once decided his 16-year-old daughter (me) should test drive some sports cars. This was just before his mid-life crisis, which resulted in a British two-seater and a pool. Dear Father and I went to a car dealership, whereupon he told the salesperson he wanted to buy his precious girl a Fiat Spider 2-seater.

Being a Catholic school girl in appropriate fear of Sister Mary, my principal, I could only look at the ground and mumble. Ten minutes later, I was in the driver’s seat of said sports car. This was back in the days when you could test-drive a car without a sales rep sitting in the back. Dad urged me to get on the highway and “open her up.” When I refused to break the speed limit, he had me pull over so he could drive. I stopped looking at the speedometer when it passed 80.

Dad also loved real estate, as do I. He and I would go to open house after open house on Cape Cod, each place bigger and more splendid than the last. Water view? Required. Private dock? Yes, please. Dad would stroll around, chatting up the Realtor, informing them that he wanted to buy me “something special.” My job was to find a reason to reject the house, then move on to the next open house. I admit that I really loved those ventures.

But the most memorable of Dad’s, er, roles happened once again on Cape Cod. At the time, we had a very well-behaved Golden retriever named Clyde. Clyde was not ours for the first two years of his life, and thus he was schooled in a way our other, hooligan dogs were not. Clyde would sit, lie down, stay, didn’t need a leash, could crawl, balance a treat on his nose until we allowed him to flip it off and catch it mid-air, dance, leap up and “catch” my sister when she pretended to fall and myriad other tricks.

Mom and Dad took Clyde to Provincetown. This was in the days before dogs were allowed in restaurants and before every café had outdoor seating. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Dad wore dark sunglasses. Mom had her arm through his. They approached a restaurant. “I’m sorry, sir,” said the maître d’, “but we don’t allow dogs.”

“This is my guide dog,” said Father, I’m ashamed to say.

“Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry!” she said. “Come in, come in!” They were seated, Clyde lay down obediently at Dad’s side, my mother smug with Dad’s ability to get what he wanted. (I like to think my parents wouldn’t feign a disability today in the “know better, do better” world.) The ruse almost fell apart when Dad picked up a menu and appreciatively watched a woman walk through the restaurant, but Mom kicked him in the shins and reminded him he was supposedly visually impaired. Which he was…just not so much that he needed a guide dog.

Their lunch was delicious. Many people admired Clyde, who remained lying on the floor, wagging his tail at their praise. Yes, he was a good dog. Yes, he did take good care of his daddy. Yes, he was such a handsome boy.

Growing up with parents who had no problem, er, bending the truth has resulted in my “honest to a fault” approach to life. Many a conversation between Sainted Mother and me has begun with her saying, “Just tell them you—” with me responding, “Absolutely not, Mother. Unlike my parents, I don’t lie.”

She always sighs in disappointment. I always roll my eyes, think of Sister Mary and my children (who adore their grandmother’s shenanigans) and tell myself it’s better to be honest.


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