For Jams, With Love

Jams Monroe, 5th President of the United States of America

My father is a man of many accomplishments. Consider the following highlights from his nearly 33-year career:

    • Happily attended three separate fifth-grade orchestra concerts that always featured the same painfully out-of-tune renditions of scintillating standards like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
    • Nimbly dreamed up bedtime stories about a family of crayfish who lived in the backyard creek
    • Gladly bought enough fundraiser candy bars to rot a full mouth of teeth twice
    • Patiently jogged down the street in pursuit of hundreds of wild pitches launched by his notoriously inconsistent middle child
    • Humbly took “measure thrice, cut once” orders from his son, a wood-working wunderkind, whenever they were in the shop
    • Quietly intimidated a small yet intrepid cast of young men hoping to date his daughters, who, according to him, were not allowed to date until they turned thirty anyway
    • Willingly drove to and sat through admissions information sessions at most of the four-year institutions in the near-Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions
    • Coolly sank a walk-off 3-point toss in Bags the first time he ever played the game at a family reunion
    • Proudly traveled 750 miles to hear this author read ten minutes of fiction

Being a father, I imagine, is no easy task. When a father commits acts of love for his kids — even seemingly minor or ordinary acts — the effect can be enormous. I think of the story that gave Anne Lamott’s inimitable book, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, its name:

…thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get  a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin at Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

I was in a similar predicament in fourth grade. I was supposed to memorize important facts about James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, and deliver a presentation to my class, but the night before the project was due, I was at a complete loss. Like Lamott’s brother, I sat at the kitchen table with a big blue encyclopedia, my social studies book, and a heart full of despair until my dad sat down with me. I can’t guarantee transcript accuracy, but it may have gone something like this:

“Having trouble with your project, Co?”
[Grumpy pout] “No.” 
“Are you sure?”
[Feigned absorption in blank notebook page] “Uh huh.”
“Are you sure you’re sure?”
“…”  [Stubbornness continues to win]
“What have you got so far? Will you show me?”
[Obscures blank page with forearm; eyes start to fill up]
“Who’s this guy?” [Pointing at the portrait accompanying the encyclopedia entry]
[Stubbornness reluctantly yields to irritation or perhaps desperation]: “James Monroe.”
“James Monroe? You know the song about him, don’t you?”
“No…”
[Loudly, while rapping the table to the beat]: “JAMS! MON-RO! JAMS, JAMS, MON-RO!”
[Cracks a smile, shakes head at father who must've lost his mind.]
[Repeats the, er, chorus]: “JAMS! MON-RO! JAMS, JAMS, MON-RO!”

The crazy song worked. I told him what I knew about “Jams” to start, and with each fact we found and added to the presentation, we chanted the song together. At some point we added choreography, which, admittedly, looked a lot like raising the roof. (To be honest, most of his dancing looks like raising the roof. Or shrugging. But at least he dances.)
With all those musical interludes, it probably took us hours to complete the presentation. He didn’t have to sit with me and make me laugh. He would have been totally justified in lecturing me about waiting until the last minute to start the hefty project. Instead, he sat down and helped me along.

For all the violin recitals and pitching practice, for the college visits and crayfish lore, I am grateful for my Jam(e)s — the man who has taught me the most about love.

…And speaking of love, I am also grateful for the rapid approach of my thirtieth birthday, so I can finally start going on dates.

3 Comments to “For Jams, With Love”

  1. Your ‘Jam’ today is great-or was it yesterday? Jam(es) is surely singing and dancing or, at least, proudly smiling!

  2. I loved that! Wonderful, wonderful lessons, especially since I anticipate many of those days in our future!

  3. Great post!

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