My Father’s Day Tribute to My Punning, Pranking Dad

My dad…Richard M. Garsten 1922-2007

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. This is my 36th year as a dad and the 13th year since I lost mine. Oh no, we’re not gonna get maudlin. We’re gonna have some fun, because that’s what my dad was. 

Actually, he was sort of sneaky fun. Generally quiet by nature and not nearly as outgoing as my mom who aspired to sing and act on Broadway, but gave it up to raise me and my brother. Some trade, huh? She would have had a shelf full of Tonys. 

No, my father was sneaky fun in a few ways. He was a chemical engineer by trade–not a profession generally associated with yukking it up. “Hey Al, hear the one about the constricted pipe nipple?” But he was a master punster who both loved to hear them and let one loose. Whether he was delivering or receiving, at the punchline, he’d grab his throat and make a choking sound. That was sometimes misunderstood by folks out of earshot and at least one time a concerned citizen ran over about to administer the Heimlich Maneuver on my dad thinking he’d swallowed an olive whole. Poor guy. Not only didn’t he save my dad’s life, he ruined his punchline. 

What was the pun? Oh, my father’s absolute favorite mocking of country music. The set up was, “Oh, I hate country music!” His victim would always ask, “how come?” The reply/punchline was always, “They have stupid titles like (and he’d sing it like Hank Williams) ‘He fell down the sewer and they called it sewer-cide.” Hand to the throat. Choking sound made. Victim suddenly remembers he’s late for root canal…and looking forward to it. 

One think my dad absolutely hated was cigars. Hated how they looked in a guy’s mouth and despise their smell. Back in the 60’s it was OK for folks to smoke in other people’s homes and we had an impressive ashtray collection to facilitate their early grave. Cigarettes? OK. Pipes? OK. Cigars? No OK. One night when the weekly poker game was at our house one of the players decided to fire up a stogie. My dad had laid down the ground rules many times, so he felt no need to repeat them. Instead, he simply whipped out a fat rubberband, made it tight around his fingers, and shot the cheroot right out of the guy’s mouth. The shocked guy knew he done wrong. All he could say was, “shit, I forgot the rule, but you could have just asked me to put it out.” Nope. My dad knew how to make a memorable moment…and his point, without uttering a word. 

Speaking of making his point wordlessly, that same guy who broke the no-cigar rule turned out, after awhile, to be quite the asshole and the guys wanted to kick him out of the game. They didn’t relish the confrontation so my father, ever the brilliant one, again came up with a way to send the message without getting into what would likely be an unpleasant verbal exchange. 

He shared his plan with the boys, whom he had arrive a little earlier than usual. When the jerk arrived at the usual time, he was greeted just outside the door to our apartment with 7 guys armed with seltzer bottles who drenched him in bubbly water. We never saw him again…and not a word was spoken. Told you. My dad was quiet.

I miss him every day and memorialize him by taking out my gee-tar and singing his “favorite” country song, afterwards reaching for my throat and making that choking sound. Oh, I’d never perform it in public. Would be professional sewer-cide. 

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