the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Wouldn’t Papa Be Proud

So my father (Mike from Tennessee, as my husband likes to refer to him, only because whenever my father calls and leaves a message he says, “It’s Mike from Tennessee,” as if we won’t recognize his voice or as if there are so many other Mikes in our life that he needs to specify “the one from Tennessee”) whom we haven’t seen since before September 11, 2001, has been in town for the last five days. And when the Hamilton family congregates, like we have each and every night for the last five nights, the Hamilton family likes to eat. And so instead of getting into arguments over whether or not George Bush has been called of God to lead America, The Promised Land, here in the Troubled Last Days of Earth, we gag ourselves on enormous portions of grilled meat and non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages, if only to keep from killing each other.

For several days I knew that my father would be spending his last evening in town at our house, and I’ve been cleaning floors and countertops with q-tips and toothbrushes. I may not have seen my father in almost two years, but I can still almost smell the memories of my father’s cleaning habits. He’s the type of person who washes his car during a rainstorm, who refuses to use a dishwasher because if God had intended people to use dishwashers he wouldn’t have given them hands, who used to get down on his hands and knees and polish the entry hallway with his breath and the sleeve of his shirt.

Whenever I spoke to my father this week I mentioned that I was going to have the house spotless when he arrived, and he kept telling me to relax, that he didn’t care about the state of my house, only about spending time with me. And yesterday, when he got out of the car (the car I had detailed at the local full-service car wash, only to come home and go over it with a toothpick and rag again because I was that worried) he walked over to the middle of the yard and immediately began PULLING WEEDS.

I’ve never felt like such a failure.

  • jess

    2003/06/05 at 7:31 am

    but dooce, just think, now you won’t have to pull weeds for a while because he got the job out of the way for you!

  • Scott

    2003/06/05 at 7:31 am

    I wouldn’t have felt like a failure, I would’ve just turned the hose on him. But that’s just how our family is.

  • Michael

    2003/06/05 at 7:34 am

    Funny like Sedaris.

  • christine

    2003/06/05 at 7:35 am

    When my dad passed away, and we were cleaning out his stuff out of his home, I was shocked to see that he was quite a tidy guy. His clothes closet was like the ones you would in a movie…pants all hanging perfectly upside-down on expensive wooden hangers; shirts all perfectly hung in rows organized by the type of shirt; lots of expensive shoes with shoe horns in the best pairs; beautiful ties hung artistically on their hanger. I absolutely did not get this mans genes.

  • aubs

    2003/06/05 at 7:41 am

    Why do Dads do that to us? My father is the same way, and has been known to vacuum the vacuum cleaner. I shit you not. He came and saw my house for the first time in a year (note that this is my first REAL house that I own, and that I have three shedding-prone cats that put Chuck’s hairball to shame on an hourly basis) and his plane arrived early, preventing me from doing the last minute swiffer AND vacuum. I was ashamed & mortified. As he left, he said he was so proud of me and my house, but wasn’t it a shame that the cats had to go ‘ruin everything like your nice carpet.’
    Some things never change.

  • xiolagrl

    2003/06/05 at 8:01 am

    Sounds like my mother. After spending my evenings for a week making sure my house was spotless for her visit, she went into the guest bathroom and proceeded to comment on her way out that I had forgotten to take out the trash. There was ONE tissue in the trashcan.

  • Naaman

    2003/06/05 at 8:03 am

    My dad’s sorta the same way, except it’s more like, “Oh, new stereo. Yeah, you’re going to have to get ‘fatter’ cables and re-route the wiring. C’mon, let’s go to Radio Shack.”

  • Carrie

    2003/06/05 at 8:04 am

    It’s sad, the way you can just change the names and a few details, and most people feel like you are telling the story of their own family, me included.
    I guess we all have to do our best to remember that parents do these insensitive things to help them deal with their own sense of inadequacy, and it has nothing to do with us.

    You aren’t a failure, Heather. Don’t do that to yourself.

  • arrancia

    2003/06/05 at 8:08 am

    when my dad died, we found utilities stats (how much power we used, how much it cost a month) for the past 20 years stashed in his desk. all in a ledger, and as current as the previous year. dads just do stuff like that, eh?

  • pat

    2003/06/05 at 8:27 am

    heather consider yourself very lucky that your dad is still around to embaress you i ran away from home when i was 13 and didn’t find out until last year that he died in 1985

  • Hairyken

    2003/06/05 at 8:27 am

    You don’t know how lucky you are, Dooce… For as long as I’ve known, my dad he hasn’t done anything but lie on the sofa complaining how tired he is because he works for us all day. Never pulled any weeds or did anything else around the house as far as I know!

  • Kyle

    2003/06/05 at 8:38 am

    Hmm, mebbe next time you could rent a kept house somewhere and pretend like you live there.

    Actually, I think the better idea is to take his advice and not worry about the state of your house. Let him clean it when he gets there.

  • shy

    2003/06/05 at 8:43 am

    🙂 poor dooce. your dad’s got the same restless hands, busy-body problem as my mom. in the end, i just let her do it because it makes her happy…

  • Peggasus

    2003/06/05 at 8:47 am

    You have missed the loophole here: the weeds cannot possibly be your problem, because you just moved in! Blame the previous owners and their sorry lack of proper lawn maintenance.

    There! Feel better now?

  • Danika

    2003/06/05 at 8:51 am

    My dad is like that too but he does that more because he feels like he should still be taking care of me. Like I haven’t grown up yet.

  • the porcelain mongoose

    2003/06/05 at 9:04 am

    that would *not* be my dad. 😀

  • melissa

    2003/06/05 at 9:14 am

    can we trade dads? my dad took off, showed up about once a year with some sorry ass present that was the exact opposite of what i needed or asked for. now that i’m an adult i’ve tried harder to have a relationship with him. i went to him a few months ago to get help with buying a car a friend of mine was selling. he was selling this car (a 2002 VW Beetle) because he had lost the use of his legs and was buying a handicap van. he was selling it to me super cheap because we were friends and he liked the idea of me out there driving his little loved car when he no longer could. but i’d just gotten laid off–hence asking dad for help. dad went and looked at it, said it was a great deal, bought the car, and kept it for himself.

    i’d take you weed-pulling dad any day.

  • Eddie D.

    2003/06/05 at 9:18 am

    Whether its licking their finger to wipe the smudge off your lips or pulling weeds in the yard, some things never change.

  • kelly

    2003/06/05 at 9:32 am

    My dad is famous for washing the walls then insisting on showing you the dirty water. Mind you, now that I think about it, the grungy water was probably caused by his 2 pack a day habit.

  • karen

    2003/06/05 at 9:44 am

    ah, that’s how parent visits are supposed to be. my mother checks all the cupboards to see if i’ve put the dishes in the right places. my theory is that if they can find something to fix, they still feel like you need them. if not, what good are they to you anymore?

  • antisocial diva

    2003/06/05 at 9:47 am

    i totally agree with karen. they always have to find something, anything. i’ve experienced similar things – over and over.

  • mihow

    2003/06/05 at 9:53 am

    Karen, I too agree. I think that’s why they also become so damn great at giving directions and letting you know what the weather’s gonna be like.

  • Sani

    2003/06/05 at 9:56 am

    I’m very afraid, because I’m a new father and I sound a lot like your dad. Anal-retentive to a major and extreme fault. I’m still pissed, because my girlfriend and son came back early from Kansas City and I didn’t get to vacuum or mop the floors in time and I will be grumpy until that happens. But I do not want my son posting something like your comment – not that your comment wasn’t well-deserved for you, just that I don’t want him to think of me as some freak waiting for him to fail. So please, people, tell me how to change.

  • april

    2003/06/05 at 9:58 am

    My dad is the same, only he bitches and moans the whole time. “I can’t believe your mother bought another knick-knack. Just ONE MORE THING I have to dust!” But yet, he never wants help because we won’t ‘do it right’.

  • debi

    2003/06/05 at 10:10 am

    Long time reader, first time poster. 🙂

    I completely agree with Karen. Parents just need to feel needed. You are lucky though. My dad does *nothing* at all. He will say he will do something and not do it. After months, someone else will do it and then.. “You did it wrong. I was going to do that.” Complain complain complain! Like.. Ok don’t tell me *I* did it wrong. At least *I* did it at all!!!! Aww.. 🙁

    Sani.. at least you have the smarts to realize you don’t want something like this for your family. I would just suggest trying not to be anal about things. Yes, you want the house to be clean but you know what? Your son will *LOVE YOU* whether the floor was mopped or not. He will love you if you didn’t dust today and he will love you if you did. So long as you show love he will know you love him and will love you back. I know it’s nice to have a clean house, it’s nice to be able to keep the floor clean and everything dusted – but that’s not the *most* important thing. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The floor can be cleaned later.

  • Melissa

    2003/06/05 at 10:14 am

    Think of it as a gift you’ve given your father. It obviously pleases him to do these things.

    And just think how clean the house is now that he’s gone. As a bonus the weeds have been pulled to!

    Happy Father’s Day!

  • trav

    2003/06/05 at 10:17 am

    You’re not a failure, because he would have found something no matter what you did–it’s just the way some people are. You could have rebuilt your house out of glass and windex and he probably would have found something to polish.

  • Alex

    2003/06/05 at 10:21 am

    Hmm…sounds like your dad and my mom would get along famously.

  • Carla Beth

    2003/06/05 at 10:31 am

    It annoys me when people try to invalidate my feelings, thoughts, experiences by telling me things like, “Well, at least you HAVE a father, or at least you are STILL young, or at least something’s in place in your LIFE that makes your life so much better than mine and so will you PLEASE just appreciate what you have and stop pouting like a spoiled brat!” Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT attempting to invalidate anyone here, which means YOU are probably not intentionally attempting to invalidate Dooce’s weed-pulling papa. After all, this post is in the spirit of sharing, correct? But like I said. How annoying.

  • the farkleberry

    2003/06/05 at 10:44 am

    Ah, fathers. The beings without whom we would not have sprung into existence, but who often make our lives miserable in the name of loving us. I too grew up with an obsessive, anal-retentive father with strong opinions diametrically opposite to my own. As a child, I was convinced he hated me. Now, as an adult, I love him dearly, and I know he loves me. But still can’t bear to stay at my parents’ house for more than one night – and he refuses to travel out to the Midwest from New York to see me. He still pisses me off royally sometimes, but I do cherish the moments I spend with him because after all, they’re temporary. The only words I can offer that may be of some comfort are “this too shall pass.” Good luck and best wishes, Dooce.

  • Jim

    2003/06/05 at 10:44 am

    When my mother visits, she will compulsively cook and clean and refuse to believe that we are adults.
    I invite the neighbors over to witness the “Crazy Sheila Show”. No end to the amusement there.

  • hagran

    2003/06/05 at 10:47 am

    When he’s done at your house, can he come over to mine?

  • julia

    2003/06/05 at 10:55 am

    for once, it’s a good thing my parents are messy.

  • Appleshell

    2003/06/05 at 11:00 am

    I think your dad is my boyfriend. He wouldn’t happen to be 37 and named Jerry would he? I swear, I try and try to make that man happy and he will find the part I overlooked. I know how your feeling my dear.

  • eliza

    2003/06/05 at 11:01 am

    I’m to short to reach most of the things in our house, like the middle shelf in all of our kitchen cabinets and a stool is required to reach the laundry detergent, so my husband does most of the cleaning due to his frustrations with my supposed half-ass job. I like to call him my little (extra-tall) housekeeper… keep on cleaning while I bring home the turkey-baccon! 🙂

  • Mike

    2003/06/05 at 11:11 am

    About what you’ve been thinking recently: Mmmmmmm. Frosssssty. Sooo gooood. Borderline sinful, really. Wouldn’t’ve thought they’d let something so tempting exist in Mormanville, USA.

  • Benjy

    2003/06/05 at 11:12 am

    pretty off topic, but there’s a ghost that looks a lot like dooce for sale on ebay (bottom of the b&w photos):

  • brittney

    2003/06/05 at 11:21 am

    That’ll learn ya.

    Weeds are the work of the devil.

  • eddeaux

    2003/06/05 at 11:54 am

    Why is it that we feel the need to impress our parents? Why do we hate to let them down? If my room is a little messy and my parents are over, I am always making excuses. If I haven’t changed the oil on time in my car and my dad asks about it, I feel like I have to lie or come up with some unbelievable reason as to why I haven’t had it done. And don’t even get me started when he asks me about money… He has always been AMAZING at managing his and has always offered to help me manage mine, but I am 27 for crying out loud- and I have overdraft protection, who cares if it costs me 25.00 for a 3.00 check.

  • Crumpet

    2003/06/05 at 11:56 am

    No house will EVER be clean enough for your parents.

    I could live in an empty plastic bubble, and my dad would stil be sniffing about the way I live.

    Let them clean/fix stuff/weed when they visit. It makes dads feel needed.

  • Broch

    2003/06/05 at 11:57 am

    A fathers work is never done, how true, how true. Even after the passing of my father, I still find little notes that he left everywhere to remind all of us the way he did things. Yes, annoying as HELL! They do bring about great memories though.

  • christa

    2003/06/05 at 11:58 am

    wow, i can honestly say that my dad is not like that. i mean, he will make comments if something is not looking perfect in my house, but he’ll blame it on my husband. i am daddy’s little angel.

  • J

    2003/06/05 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t think anyone is trying to invalidate anyone’s feelings or experiences. They are just venting about how much their dad hurt them, or disappointed them, or how envious they actually are of the fathers others have. Ultimately, parents are painful, sticky, wonderful, maddening, blessed subjects.

  • bigbigtruck

    2003/06/05 at 12:05 pm

    Oh man. Beautiful column…
    A few weeks ago, my folks were in town – Mom drove me back to my apartment after I’d had surgery… as I lay down in bed, she started getting on my case about the cat hair on the sheets. Which I’d just run over with a lint roller before the surgery.

  • bushra

    2003/06/05 at 12:13 pm

    ah, issues with dad. whenever we disagree on something, he always manages to argue well enough to make me agree that i’m wrong and he’s right. that and reducing me to a blubbering wreck.

    there’s comfort in there somewhere, i’m sure.

  • domino

    2003/06/05 at 12:34 pm

    Well, despite the fact that my mom is a *complete* slob and never cleans anywhere, I get terribly anal about housework when she comes to visit me. Mind, I still remember living at home and her going away for a weekend; I cleaned like crazy, hoping for a thankyou, and got “you haven’t even done the dishes”

    Love the Blog, Dooce. Especially Chuck. 🙂

  • michael

    2003/06/05 at 12:35 pm

    been following your site for a few days, and this is my first post. i love your site and you’re a gifted woman.

  • Beerzie Boy

    2003/06/05 at 12:36 pm

    If Mr. Busy is looking for some cleaning tasks, I have a house with three small boys that always can use a little spit ‘n polish.

  • Sheila

    2003/06/05 at 12:43 pm

    i discourage my family from visiting my apartment (its too small for any kind of gathering anyway). i do not have my mother’s cleaning gene. :/
    believe the bathroom would prompt her to phone the CDC.

  • holly

    2003/06/05 at 12:47 pm

    Better your father to help pull the weeds than a neighbor. The man that lives across the street has said he has a fear of dandelions. He will come pull them from your yard if you don’t!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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