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Father's advice to son is 'write stuff'

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

By John Breneman

Uh, hi Mom. I just wanted to say, uh, Happy Mothers Day. And thank you ... for literally everything.

Like for that time back in '61 when you went to the hospital and it was really painful, but you hung in there, and then when you came home, you were holding me in your arms. Or all those times when I made Winnie-the-Pooh and you got me cleaned up, good as new.

Have I ever mentioned that I am eternally grateful for the approximately 8-12 tons of food you have given me over the years, even, in retrospect, the 14 kilograms of lima beans. (I only ate three kilos though, the other 11 are hidden in a crawl space in our old house in Pennsylvania.)

And thank you for the nice DNA. I really am enjoying it and promise never to monkey around with cloning or tissue regeneration.

Oh and while I think of it, thanks for the name. I know it must have hurt your feelings when I was about 8 and I announced that I didn't really like the name John. When I decided there were too many of us at school, and so could you please just call me Catfish from now on?

Talk about humoring a kid. I'll never forget my birthday cake that year. Eight candles and "Happy Birthday, Catfish" in sweet cursive frosting.

Now that I'm older and wiser I also feel I should thank you for putting up with my (inherited?) eccentricities, even when I refer to myself by my favorite pseudonym. You know the one: Arturo DiMaunchie.

This is a family newspaper, but I guess its OK to mention that my rump still thanks you for your philosophical opposition to corporal punishment. (P.S. Thanks too for firing that mean baby sitter who spanked me with my Hot Wheels track.)

And may I please express my enduring gratitude for teaching me to be polite. I don't know what you did, but I get a huge kick out of being extra polite to people. Thank you, my dear mother, for this and so many other simple gifts.

Thank you also for these things:
-- For the way you took care of everything, all the while letting Dad think he was really calling the shots.

-- For that time when I lied to you, remember? About my involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. And you said, "Hmmm, is that what really happened?" And of course I broke down and told the truth, learning from you that it was better to be honest than to go on trying to protect President Reagan and Oliver North.

-- For stopping me from wearing those blue pants with the extra-hideous stripe embroidered down each leg to school for the fourth straight day back in '72.

-- For not panicking when I got Ds in penmanship from Mr. Mariner in the fifth grade because you knew that what I wrote was much more important than how it looked on a piece of paper, and that it was essential to encourage and nurture an active imagination in your children.

-- For that time when I stubbed my big toe on a deranged armadillo when we went to the zoo in Afghanistan (OK, it was in the pool during a vacation in Maine) and you stopped the very rotation of the Earth so it wouldn't throb quite so much.

-- For that time when I was about 5 or 6 and I put on your boots and went in the closet... On second thought, never mind about that time.

-- For getting me all those great shirts and, really, for knowing me better than I know myself.

My appreciation and love for you cannot be overstated, even under the intense pressures of satire. But most of all, thank you so much Mom for your joyful, tender, protective, fearless, empowering, unconditional and life-giving love.


Back to PAGE ONE

By John Breneman

I'm in the newspaper business today thanks to the nurturing influence of a very wise gentleman. Nelson Mandela. Wait no, I'm just kidding. Somewhere along the line I became a pathological jokester. Let me start again.

I'm in the newspaper business today thanks to the nurturing influence of a very wise gentleman. My dad.

Back in '83 I obtained a degree in that most marketable of subjects -- philosophy. But other than a cross-country adventure with a childhood friend, I didn't exactly have my future mapped out.

I knew I didn't want to be a Maytag man, a pentium chip magnate, or a sea urchin monger. And I was ill-suited for any position requiring a fancy jacket and decorative noose (aka tie).

Though I had enjoyed many a rollicking game of cops and robbers as a youth, I was not gunning for a career busting bad guys or pulling bank jobs.

I was not cut out to be a butcher or a brain surgeon. Professional soybean farming was not a field I was inclined to pursue. And I just didn't think I had what it took to become a systems analyst, forensic scientist or Triple Action Gold Bond Powder salesman.

I was a human resource without a cause. In what I now recognize as a desperate cry for help, I actually took a seminar from some people who wanted to make money by having me sell mutual funds to my closest friends. Then I got caught up briefly in some scam involving solar panels.

I was anxious to begin making my humble contribution to the Gross National Product, but I didn't picture myself toiling for Eastman Kodak, Chuck E Cheese or Bristol-Myers Squibb. The $20,000 question --"What are you going to do with your life?" -- loomed large.

I didn't know. But somehow, my dad did.

And so it came to pass that my dad, who knew that I liked to write, offered unto his first-born a few simple words of fatherly occupational therapy.

He said, "Get a job, you lousy bum!" Whoops, kidding again.
What he really said was, "Why don't you go up and talk to the lady who runs the York Weekly?"

Hmmm. I did and, soon after, my first byline appeared in my hometown paper -- a preview of the 1984 York Wildcats track season. It's a collector's item now, selling for as much as 18 cents on the eBay online auction house.

Fast-forward 20 years from my pop's ink-stained epiphany, and now I'm in charge of a pretend newspaper called the Humor Gazette. This means that when momentous occasions like Father's Day roll around, it is my sworn duty to concoct some meaningful commentary.

And so the topic of the day is fathers. My particular dad (I'll call him Ernie because that's his name) just turned 70 and I think he's glad I didn't follow his footsteps into the coal mines of western Pennsylvania.

There I go joking around again. I wonder where I get that. (Chief suspects: a 75-year-old male caucasian whose street name is "Ernie" and his longtime accomplice, "Jill.")

My dad was a self-described "Depression Baby," a term he often invoked when making us clean all the food off our plates. At one time he was a dashing young Air Force pilot and today I would like to salute him. I just hope he doesn't mind me teasing him about the smoking.

For years he worked as a big-time adman in a Pittsburgh skyscraper that I remember being awed by when he brought me there for a visit. He fondly recalls that the job required exhilarating bursts of creativity, but he tired of the corporate rat race around '72 and shucked it all to move his family up to a little place called York, Maine.

It was one of the most important decisions of his life, and he nailed it. To this day, I and my brother and sister thank him on bended knee. He brought us to the ocean. He brought us home.

My dad is the man and I love him more than I could ever say.
Fortunately, he was never big on those "when I was your age" speeches. You know the ones: The old-timer tells how in order to get to school each day he had to crawl 14 miles on his belly through the jungles of Vietnam, swim through a boiling tar pit teeming with leeches and piranhas, and then pole vault over a barbed-wire electric fence to beat the first-period bell at 4:45 a.m.

But he did teach me a thing or two. Stuff like:
* Keep your eye on the ball to prevent unpleasant facial injuries.

* Wait at least 30 minutes after eating lemon meringue pie before scuba diving for pirate treasure in the York River.

* Avoid uneccesary contact with muggers, murderers and manslaughterers.

* Don't smoke cigarettes; and stand at attention when the surgeon general is talking to you.

* Birds and bees have absolutely nothing to do with sex.

* Nuclear weapons are not toys.

Also this: Family values are cool. You can do anything you set your mind to. And, for goodness sake, utilize personal hygiene products every so often.

Humor Gazette editor John Breneman also answers to the name Ernie Jr.


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