Fathers and Sons

To Sunday…. (Father’s Day 2019)

As we got ready for church this morning, I found myself thinking of Sunday mornings as a kid, which were so scented and sounded with ritual and routine.

After morning coffee, Dad would retreat to the basement steps to shine his shoes. Dutifully. Reverently. Different shine depending on his black or deep red shoes. The smell carrying back up the steps, and trailing him as he retired to the bathroom for The Shave, which was as mesmerizing as it got for my single-digit self.

The pop of the cap off the can and gurgly cough of shaving cream into his hand. The magical lathering into a Santa-like white foam beard. The menthol scent. The shhhhhhk of each stroke, followed by the splash, dunk and high-pitched plinks of water back into the sink bowl as he drew his hand up for the next.

At some point he gave me an old razor, sans blade, and, with my trusty can of Crazy Foam, I mimicked every detail — standing in front of him and the bathroom mirror — down to the last ersatz stroke, culminating with the ceremonial splash of English Leather, the official scent of Sunday morning Riddell man- and boyhood.

Dad was always Sunday suit and tie, and I remember the exhilaration of graduating from the clip ons to the real deals, he standing behind me, tying me his patented modified Windsor. I can still hear the sound of tie scuffing against collar as his hands worked their magic as I stood still and straight.

It was usually just the two of us to Sunday School (Mom grew up Baptist, and found Presbyterian-ism a little too tame). We’d park at the Sherwin Williams parking lot, where he was the manager, and walk across the street to Trinity, which was a glorious Dracula’s Castle to me. We’d sit last pew in the back of the chapel for worship before Sunday School. George Tanner, Trinity’s famed basketball coach, typically led the proceedings. Mr. Tanner didn’t have the best voice, but more than made up for it with full-throated gusto. I remember marveling at Dad’s ear … he would sing bass, harmonizing with the melody. I could never figure out where or how he found those notes.

After worship, we’d retreat to our Sunday School rooms, where I muscled through in the way most kids did, giving our patient teachers poor return on their sincere investments.

Then, Church. We’d sit in the balcony, which my tiny self always found hugely cool. Climbing the old wraparound staircase to the top, hand on banister, each creaking step its own punctuation mark. The steps made your arrival a reveal … the cushy pews, the stained glass – it presented as this little gift we unwrapped every Sunday. Then the service’s consistent cadence. The registering in the attendance pads, reciting from the bulletin, roar of the organ, red-felted offering plates, Lord’s Prayer, silver goblets of grape juice on Communion days, and the fire-and-brimstone-less Presbyterian sermons going straight over my head up to the heavens.

After hand-shaking the minister, we’d cross back to the parking lot to graduate to the true Sunday highlight.

Mom NEVER cooked on Sundays, which meant Dad would treat us to lunch. Long John Silver’s was the go to, and in the days when cholesterol wasn’t really a thing, we nourished our freshly churched souls with fried everything. Hush puppies. Fish. Chicken (never fries, tho – they sucked). Alternately doused with / drenched in ketchup and vinegar. I’d invariably ask for a small boat of extra ‘crumblies,’ the small pieces of fried batter that failed to cling to the fish or chicken.

I only learned years later that Sunday Dinner was a big home-cooked deal for most families. I never felt I missed out on anything, though. Me and Dad ate like pirates.


After we got home from church and the grocery store this morning, Karry and Em (who DO cook on the occasional Sunday) went to work in the kitchen, taking it upon themselves to prepare one of the finest meals ever served in our humble home. I’m confident that future Father’s Days (and perhaps generations) will find us speaking in hushed and reverent tones of Em’s baked mac n’ cheese.

After she said Grace, I offered up a toast to those who made me a father:

  • to Kenneth Neal, who lived his long life as a lesson that time is the only currency that matters;
  • to Peter Neal, who has demonstrated exponentially more patience and Grace with me in his 18 years than the other way around;
  • to Emma Leigh, who lets me believe that I’m the adult in our relationship even though we both know better;
  • and to Karry Colleen, who kicks more ass — a portion of which is typically mine – in her waking hours than me on my best day … but who has been THE common denominator in all of my best days as a Dad.

In good times and bad, I’ve found it’s always good to remind myself that things will not always be like this.

So, to Sundays.

And the only currency that matters.


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