He pulled into my driveway on his motorcycle and revved the engine just to show off the sound he'd teased out of his custom pipes. He grinned from ear to ear as he cut the engine and pulled off his helmet. I just shook my head and laughed as I watched him dismount wearing his black leather jacket, matching chaps, and riding boots.
"What's the matter?" he asked when he saw my bemused expression.
What I was thinking was: "Why couldn't you have been this cool when I was in high school?" What actually came out was, "Who's the 'hoodlum' now?!"
That annoyed me because the only picture I could conjure up in my head of a "hoodlum" was a scene out of the Broadway musical Westside Story -- dancing street gangs in tight black pants with, you guessed it, leather jackets. This was really not the look I was going for. My parents (particularly my dad) objected not only to leather but also to denim jackets, high top sneakers, and everything else I truly loved. Three school days out of every five, I would come downstairs dressed and ready only to be sent back up to change into something "more suitable for school."
So now, as my dad roared into my driveway looking like a combination of the AARP and the Hell's Angels, I asked myself, "How is this fair?"
Then, all at once, I underwent a radical paradigm shift. I realized that this wasn't so much a change in my dad as a reversion to his younger self. During the years he was raising me, I had always thought he was in a state of (very convenient) parental amnesia, during which he forgot what it was like to be 14, 15, 16, or 17 and to be frustrated in all one's attempts at coolness by strict parents with high expectations and low tolerance. But now, as I looked at the happy expression on his face, it occurred to me that he never looked all that happy when I was growing up. Could it be that he had set aside part of himself for the sake of us kids, and now that we were grown he was free to relax and enjoy himself again? In other words, could it be that during my teen years, he was suppressing his inner hoodlum in order to be the kind of father he was sure I needed him to be? That certainly put a different spin on things!
Either way, as there I stood facing my leather-bound father, his smile gave way to momentary concern. "I don't look like a hoodlum, do I?" he asked.
The shoe was suddenly and unexpectedly on the other foot. He was looking for MY approval. What would I do with this sudden position of power? I did the only thing in the world I could possibly do.
I answered, "No, you look great, Dad!"
And his smile returned.