Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers Know Best

In honor of Father's Day, I thought I would give a shout-out to my dad, Steve Vagnino. My dad likes to joke that he is a "Renaissance failure": a man who has attempted many different career paths, but failed at all of them. It's true, his band Steve Persia and the Progressions didn't really take off. His film, "A Pleasure Doing Business," despite a cast that included Phyllis Diller and Tom Smothers (of the Smothers Brothers!), crashed at the box office. And the only remaining bottles of wine produced by Vanino Cellars are in our basement. Regardless, my dad has led an incredibly colorful and fascinating life, and he is a near-perfect father. Four kids, and none of us are in jail or Republicans, so he must have done something right.

My childhood was entertaining, to say the least. Some of my favorite memories involve my dad at the piano, making up ludicrous songs. The jazzy ballad "Hamburger Plaza" is about a fictional place of work where hamburgers of all types and sizes are made. The showtune-esque "Grab Your Hat and Your Patagonia" reinforces the importance of not leaving the house without an appropriate jacket.

Inventing practical/educational games is another one of my father's gifts. For instance, fighting over mini boxes of Frosted Flakes and Pops from the Kellogg's variety pack became moot once Cereal Roulette was created, a game wherein all the cereals in the pack (including the dreaded Total) were put into a salad spinner, mixed up, and distributed at random. And I will never forget which months only have 30 days, thanks to the rhyme my dad taught me, which makes no sense and yet is seared into my brain:

Thirty days have September, April, June, and November
All the rest like peanut butter
Except Grandma; she drives a Buick.

The legacy lives on with my youngest brother,11-year-old J.T., who studies for his weekly spelling test with the assistance of Spelling Bear, a stuffed bear voiced by my dad with an unfortunate masochistic streak. Whenever J.T. spells a word incorrectly, Spelling Bear becomes very distressed and resorts to repeatedly punching himself in his felt face. The game's only flaw is that Spelling Bear's joyous reaction when J.T. gets a word right is not nearly as funny, which may account for my brother's weak spelling skills to this very day.

Though our family vacations often resemble those of the Griswolds, the film dad that most resembles mine is undoubtedly Steve Martin in "Parenthood." I was hoping to find a clip on YouTube of the scene where he dons bath mats as chaps and becomes balloon impresario "Cowboy Gil" at his son's birthday party, but the picture will have to suffice. That's absolutely the kind of thing my dad did all the time when I was growing up. And I am a better (and funnier) person because of it.

Final fatherly wisdom:

"As long as what comes out of the sausage-maker looks like sausage, no one cares if the pig had a bad day." -Steve Vagnino, 6/9/08

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