I really like words and there are some that just stick with you. One of my all-time favorite words in the English language is idiosyncrasy. And as luck would have it, the man with the most idiosyncrasies in recorded history is also my dad. Some of these make me laugh and some really piss me off. But it’s taken me a long time to understand that regardless, they all belong to the one and only Howie Mandell. My dad’s father died when I was 5-years old and I have been told that he was a very simple man with no discernible interests, passions, or hobbies. This boggles my mind because, well, my dad has too many interests, passions, and hobbies. The man cannot sit still – he gets bored quicker than a toddler at the DMV. See, another idiosyncrasy!
My dad and I generally disagree on everything. Sometimes we bicker, occasionally we’ll have a respectful debate, and other times we’ll flat out fight. I refuse to let the old man win because as long as he’s reading 5 newspapers a day (idiosyncrasy), he’s capable of tangling with his offspring.
But for all of the arguing and yelling and words we wish we could take back, I have never once, in my 44 years doubted this man’s love for me. Not once. Ever.
Some years ago, my dad told me about his biggest regret in life – that he chose not to pursue his dream of flying. You can tell because when he drives, he’s secretly in a cockpit somewhere over the Atlantic. His automatic gear shifter is actually a throttle. And from brown Toyota Corollas and Ford sedans to station wagons and minivans, this never changed. He chose to get out of the military before it was too late – and the New York City Board of Education was his landing spot for over 30 years. In this same conversation, he acknowledged that sure, he gave up his dream, but he also didn’t die (a pretty good trade-off in my opinion). And he eventually met my mom and they had my brother and me. So that wasn’t too bad a life either, he said.
Growing up I never knew my dad with only one job. He always had two, sometimes three, and I believe one year there was a fourth. He left before we got up in the morning but he was always there for us at night. And sure I was a bit disappointed if he was working on a Saturday and not at my baseball games, but later on, I learned that’s how he paid for our family vacations.
I mentioned earlier that his father died when I was 5. I didn’t really get to know my grandfather at all. It bothers me to this day and will probably do so for the rest of my life. He was 75 when he died. Some years ago when my brother and I started having kids of our own, I yelled at my dad and told him he needed to make it well past 75. I wasn’t going to allow our kids to grow up without their Grandpa. So far, so good. Mr. Idiosyncrasy is doing his best in developing wonderful relationships with all of his six grandchildren. Even the youngest, 11-month old Will, lights up and giggles when he sees Grandpa via FaceTime.
I recently made a discovery, one many years in the making and one I have taken for granted throughout my life. I have been given a gift that so many others never receive. I have a dad who through all of life’s struggles, details, and disappointments continues to stand by my side. That’s not the gift though. The true gift is that I’ve never had to doubt it.
My dad is not a perfect man, nor a perfect father. He’ll eventually tell you that if you get him going. But with all of his idiosyncrasies and through all of our arguments, he continues to be there for me in ways he doesn’t even realize.
Happy 80th birthday to the original, the one and only, the perpetually idiosyncratic Howie Mandell – my dad. I love you and I just want everyone to know it.