Unfortunately, my Dad didn't get the brief. What makes it more painful is that he's one of those people who were never that young to begin with. I don't mean he was boring; just that his interests were always more serious than other kids' Dads'. So while my friends dozed off in school after staying up all night watching the World Cup play offs with their Dads, I'd scribble furiously into my journal my impressions of Tolstoy and Dickens because they were the nominated topics of dinner conversation that week.
Since I moved back in, my Dad has asked thrice that I accompany him to the barber shop. I obliged once. Throughout his haircut, he made the barber stop repeatedly in the middle of his craft to ask me if he should maybe keep a portion long, or part it in a different way, or adopt a quiff. He once wondered aloud if the barber could do anything about the grey hairs on his body.
My Dad also decided that I would be his conduit to the E-niverse. In the last couple of months, I have introduced him to the computer, created his email account and set up a webcam so he can Skype with my sister's kids. He is still unable to fully grasp the concept of googling stuff -he thinks all things have allotted residences of their own on the web, and keeps asking me for the "address" for this and that. I think he's worried that it's somehow impolite to access a website through a search engine, and not directly by typing in the web address. I can't convince him that it's not the same as Uncle Chaz dropping in unannounced.
On the whole though, he has made steady progress. The other day, he asked me if he should change his shirt in preparation for a bout of Skyping with Legs Gracy, an old friend of my parents'. Legs had a bit of a reputation in their college for wearing short skirts. I figured any reason was good enough to rid him off the shirt he was wearing- it was fluorescent green and tight, and clung to his paunch like a drowning man to floatsam. He promptly strutted back in wearing a Che Guevera teeshirt and a beret. Mom spilled her coffee on my knee, but the court is yet to prove intentional harm.
Happy as I am to help Dad through whatever issues are leading him to buy CDs of One Direction -I haven't gotten round to teaching him about file sharing yet- I determined to save him and my niblings any embarrassment by warning them about his propensity to midlife. It was a phase, and it would probably be over soon, but it would do no harm for the niblings to be prepared. I survived the first one on my own; I would guide them through the second coming. I was Uncle Cool, and I would have The Chat with them. Their parents could thank me later.
"So what I'm basically saying," I say, "is that Grandpa might do things that embarrass you and make the other kids give you hurtful nicknames that scar you for life, but it's only because he's old and mental."
They look nonplussed. The poor things haven't grasped the seriousness of the situation. They don't know about "your Dad smells like old socks." They were born after the Sideburns, and the Vespa; long after the disappointment of the Seventies passing him by in his youth had been atoned for during mine in the Nineties.
"Guys, this is serious," I tell them, "he will reference movies that you should never admit you like. He will frame participation certificates from cricket camp in the living room. He will crush your spirit, and bulldoze your self-respect, but don't let him see you cry. Ok? Cry only when you're alone, not in front of him. Don't let him win."
My nephew looks up from his iPad. I'm finally getting through. "Rita says you embarrass her all the time," he says, pointing at his sister. I laugh. I'll let Rita take this one; tell the little fella he's mistaken. "It's not all the time," says a flushed little Rita.
My world comes tumbling down; folding in on itself. Their words echo off my eardrums as though from a great distance.
"Yesterday," says a voice that sounds a lot like my Rita's, "you liked your own status update on Facebook."
"Shelley's mother," says the voice, "told my teacher you send her strange texts at night."
"You lifted me up by the ankles in the car park and all the boys saw my underpants," says the voice.
Oh God, there's more. She's only getting warmed up.
"You keep retweeting your own tweets," she says.
"And you're always cheating at Uno," adds a lower tenor.
Et tu, nephew?
Later that evening at the barbershop, Dad and I are seated in adjacent chairs, hair being tended to while we watch the news.
"So what made you come with me to the hairdresser's?" my Dad wants to know.
""You promised to call it "barbershop"," I remonstrate, "and I needed a haircut."
"Right. Did you know," says Dad, "they have this thing where they put your feet in a tank full of fish that are trained to give you a footjob?"
"Don't gay this up," I tell him, "and it's called a pedicure."
"Sorry," he says, "can you hand me the remote? Sick of the news."
"Doesn't bother me," I say, "Can't see a damn thing with these cucumber slices over my eyes."
Icy Highs's Video Recco: Rocky VI Training Scene