I’m sitting in a space-age medical chair, gazing into high-tech eye-doctor equipment. The optometrist is shining an aircraft landing light into my eyes and giving me an exam.
The doctor sort of talks to himself while inspecting me. He clicks his teeth and makes doctor sounds, like: “Mmm hmm, yep. Oooooh yeah.”
And I keep asking what’s going on, but he doesn’t answer me.
I don’t like to admit this about myself, but I don’t like doctors. They scare me because they are always doing More Tests. It’s just part of who they are.
You have a doctor sitting in an office full of high-dollar, kick-butt, slick-as-a-whistle medical equipment and you can bet your HMO he’s going to do More Tests whether you need them or not.
“Am I gonna pull through?” I ask.
He laughs and says, “This is just an eye exam. But just to be sure, we need to dilate your eyes.”
Dilate? This sounds like a very invasive procedure. I am suddenly lightheaded.
“I think I need to sit down,” I say.
“You are sitting down.”
So, basically, I need eyeglasses. And why not? Everyone I know wears them. My mother wears glasses. My wife wears them. My dogs chew up about three pair each week.
My father wore them, too. Though, he didn’t need them. What happened was that my father wanted to wear glasses because he thought they made him look cultured. He believed eyeglasses made him appear like the kind of high-society guy who ate his fishsticks with a fork.
He would go into antique stores, pick up pairs of antique eyeglasses, and try them on for kicks. The glasses would usually make him look like Buddy Holly on an algebra field trip. My mother would see him and say “Take those off, you look ridiculous.”
The thing is, my father had perfect vision, and this always disappointed him somehow. He wanted to wear glasses.
One time he was walking through a supermarket parking lot and found a pair of spectacles lying on the ground. He put them on, then looked into his truck’s side mirror and winked at himself.
That week, he took them to an optometrist and got them fitted with fake lenses. He wore them whenever he was at church, reading the newspaper, or when he was thinking about something long and hard. Sometimes he would remove his glasses and bite the stem for effect.
He never wore them to work. He was your quintessential ironworker, an all-American welder, a blue-collar man, clad in denim and boots. Glasses clashed with his image.
But at home my father was an avid reader, a music nut, a Ford Motor Company evangelist, and he devoured books like they were hard candy. I guess a man like that needs glasses.
He finally got his wish. Not long before he died, the doctor told him he was going nearsighted from reading so much. The doc knew how badly my father wanted eyeglasses, so he said, “Congratulations, Mister Dietrich, you need glasses.”
My father was so excited that he bought steaks for the whole family.
I suppose I have spent a lifetime remembering little things about my father that don’t mean much. Insignificant details that wouldn’t matter to many. There are just some things about your parents that, if you don’t write them down, you will forget.
Such as the fact that my father wanted me to be a writer. In fact, he might have been the first one to suggest this idea when I was a kid. He dreamed up this notion before I knew how to make sentences, back when the most creative things I could form were mudpies.
But when I became old enough to start using that Sea-Foam blue Lettera 32 typewriter, I did write. I wrote all sorts of silly stories, pecking out sentences with two index fingers. And he was always the first to read my tales about shameless women, pirates, and cowboys. His glasses would sit low on his nose.
He would mark the paper with a red pen, writing comments like: “This line doesn’t work.” Or “LIE NOT LAY!” And: “Don’t use a three-syllable word when one syllable will do.”
Despite all his shortcomings, he made me feel like somebody.
At his funeral, I behaved oddly. You’re going to think it’s weird when I tell you. I feel silly even writing it down.
But I wore his clothes to his visitation. My father died when he was 41-year-old man and I was a child. He was a 34 waist, 34 inseam, and a 42 long. I wore Sears & Roebuck “Husky” pants. On the day of his service, I wore his tweed sport coat, his necktie, and if my mother would have let me wear his trousers I would have.
I looked like a fool. People came through the funeral line to see an awkward boy standing there, swallowed in a mass of his father’s clothing.
To complete the ensemble, I wore his glasses. Even though I didn’t need them.
My doctor flips on the lights. My eye exam is over, and he is making notes on a clipboard.
“Good news, Mister Dietrich,” he says. “It looks like you’re at the age where you’re gonna need glasses.”
I almost tell him that he’s got the wrong Mister Dietrich, but I can’t see him.