In 1998, I traveled with my father to the beautiful state of Washington. We rented a car and put about 1,600 miles on it, visiting Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Mount Baker National Forest, Whidbey Island, Grand Coulee Dam and a quirky little Western town called Winthrop, which had good candy and ice cream and VHS rentals of great classic movies like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But I digress.
Amid these majestic settings, my Dad imparted to me many an important life lesson and one very hilariously unsuccessful compliment, the story of which he has finally authorized me to share. Allow me to introduce our characters:
A former resident of Seattle, motivated to show his 14-year-old daughter the natural wonders of his former home. He presents as
highly obsessively organized and armed with 25lbs of maps, itineraries and emergency supplies as this was his first non-local trip in which he was solely responsible for his daughter’s well-being and survival.
An insecure 14-year-old girl with braces, skinny legs, questionable fashion sense and an awkward haircut. I consider myself to be the axis around which the world rotates and I am generally terrible during most waking hours (which are few in number.)
SCENIC ROAD ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
VERY, VERY EARLY IN THE MORNING. OKAY, IT’S PROBABLY 10 A.M. BUT WHEN YOU’RE 14 AND THE TIME IS STILL PUNCTUATED WITH AN A.M., IT IS
VERY, VERY EARLY.
(muffled sounds of crankiness)
“What’s wrong with you this morning?”
“What’s wrong? WHAT’S WRONG??? I’ll tell you what’s wrong.
I am SHORT, I am FAT and I am UGLY!!!”
(immediately, with an expression of defiance)
“You are NOT SHORT!!!”
We should give him credit for trying. Though he as much as confirmed that I was in fact, fat and ugly (but not short!) this was my Dad’s genuine attempt at making me feel better, and he is notoriously challenged by situations requiring impromptu compliments. Still, it worked – the absurdity of the comment made us both laugh, distracted me from my pity party and probably made me a more agreeable traveling companion.
His rationale, as he later tried to explain to me, was that since he found it obvious that I was not fat or ugly and illogical that I would think so, my shortness of stature was the only claim he felt he had to dispel. In hindsight, we both agreed that of the 3 self-deprecating adjectives I had used to describe myself, “short” was the only one that would have been safe for him to agree with.
This “compliment” is now over 15 years old, but unfortunately for my Dad, I am still telling people about it. Within our family circles, the story has gone viral. I’ve been present at dinners where other people have jumped in to tell the story for me, and during bad days at work, my colleagues are thoughtful enough to remind me that “at least you aren’t short.”
If I ever write an autobiography, I think I know what I will call it. Sorry Dad 🙂