The Dad, The Myth, The Legend

“Fathers Day is on Sunday” is what I saw on facebook yesterday, written unironically by perhaps the one person in New Zealand who hasn't listened to that amazing radio clip. It made me think of my Dad, STEVE CHAPMAN (somehow you only can write his accent in caps lock) and how he has featured many times in my stories and not always as the hero. Because my Dad is the king of doing “this-will-be-a-funny-story-later” things. So in honour of STEVE CHAPMAN, I will share a story that is oft repeated in the Chapman household. But before I once again exploit my Dad's hilarious ways, there are a few things worth mentioning.

Growing up, Dad was Fun Dad. If you wanted to play or do something exciting, you went to Dad. If you wanted to go somewhere, you asked Dad for permission first. Sometimes he said yes and it was like winning the jackpot but usually he would get scared and tell us to ask Mum (which we did maybe 20% of the time because we already knew it would be a no). At Splash Planet he would ride down the slides with us on the back of the double donut which meant we could ride at the front and never touch the water cos we were so high up. I remember one family reunion when I was about eight, we all went to Piha beach for a swim. Mum didn't want us going in by ourselves so Dad went with us. He started playing a game with me that I found truly exhilarating and pretty soon some of the younger cousins asked to join in. What was the game? Dad would carry me out in the deeper water, wait for a big wave, then when it was almost upon us he would throw me into it. Yes, he would literally throw me into the oncoming wave and then catch me as I flew back to him from the force of the wave. When I think of it now, it's a pretty dangerous 'game' that I have never seen anyone else play, but at the time I never once was scared. And that's the point. Dad was security. Despite the fact that he married a woman with six kids (can anybody say baggage?), he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. After that first lapse in judgment, he stuck by it. All ten of us grew up with a home, food, clothes, a lot of extra-curricular activities, and plenty of stories, thanks to Dad working as hard as he did. He was always the proudest Dad, to the point of it being embarrassing. Every social gathering you could walk past my Dad and hear him bragging about one of us (if I'm honest, and Christel always reminds me, it was usually me or Ken) to some poor unsuspecting listener. He was number one supporter at every single sports game, even if he had a lot of cricket advice for someone who had never played before in his life. If he was watching one of us play basketball, you could count on him yelling loudly “PEOPLE DON'T EVEN WALK THEIR DOGS THAT FAR” after a missed travel call. It always got a laugh from spectators and a cringe from us kids. Because he was a teacher, it was inevitable that I would play sport against teams from his school and it always made me nervous. Until one day, when I was in year nine and our basketball team played Hutt Valley High, where Dad worked. It was a bitter rivalry between our teams and I didn't much care for my opponent on the court until she turned to me during free throws and asked

“Are you Mr Chapman's daughter?”

I had no idea what could possibly come next but I had no escape.

“Yes.”

The girl lit up.

“Oh my god we love Mr Chapman!”

She turned to the girls on the bench.

“This is her!”

And then all the girls on the benched yelled out

“Yaaay Mr Chapman!”

What was going on.

I turned to her.

“How did you know he was my Dad?”

“Oh he talks about you all the time.”

I didn't know whether to be flattered or embarrassed that he was forcing his students to act like they were interested in my life.

So that's Dad, he loves to tell a good story (sometimes five, six, twenty times) and if he dares repeat it in front of anyone who was also there at the time, he will almost always be corrected. He was provider and supporter and I love him. Now, with that in mind, let me tell you a story about my Dad.

I'm ten years old (I think) and Dad asks me what I want for Christmas. He hasn't even finished the question before I ask for a bike. All I have wanted for a while is a bike. Christel had gotten a bike a few years earlier and didn't use it much anymore so I had adopted it. Christel's bike was a beautiful girls bike; baby blue, no suspension, and weighed a tonne. But it was the only bike I could ride so I rode that bad boy into the ground. Nick and I would go down to the bmx track with some other boys from school and see who could get the most air on the big jump. They always won because they had actual mountain bikes which, believe it or not, helps. The bike would feel like it might break with every landing but I stuck at it and pretended my wrists didn't hurt from all the jarring. We would also go across to the teachers college and ride down the big concrete staircases (again, not what that bike was made for). So by Christmas I was dying for a new bike. I figured since Christel got a new bike at that age I would definitely get one. Dad listened to my request and said

“Well I'll talk to Santa and see what he can do.”

By this point I knew Santa wasn't real but if Santa was gonna get me a bike...well call me a born-again. I told Ken and Christel what Dad had said and got mixed reactions. Ken thought I shouldn't get my hopes up because he never got a bike, while Christel said that's what Dad said to her before she got her one. So they were no help whatsoever.

As Christmas drew nearer, the topic of Mad's Bike came up regularly and Dad would always wryly smile and say

“You'll just have to wait and see what Santa brings you.”

I was going crazy. Every time we drove past a bike shop I would look at the mountain bikes out front and wonder which one Dad, or Santa, had picked out for me. I hoped he hadn't spared any cost and gone for the full suspension and disc brakes.

Finally, Christmas Eve dawned and Temara ran down the stairs saying there were a bunch of new presents under the tree. We all raced up to inspect them, ignoring Dad's mantra of “The more you look at them, the more they shrink”. There were pretty big ones for Christel and Ken, and something that rattled for Temara. And none for Gretchen Weiner (I'm Gretchen in this scenario). I was upset at first but then Christel got all excited and turned to me.

“A bike doesn't fit under the tree! It's probably hidden somewhere until we open our presents!”

This actually made a lot of sense and got me amped up all over again. I told Dad what Christel said and he replied.

“She has a point. Bikes are pretty big. You'll just have to wait and see.”

I couldn't wait until late that night when we could open our presents. I imagined the moment; Dad leaving the room and wheeling the bike back in, maybe with a bow on it. I was never good at giving reactions to things (why I still hate opening presents in front of people) so I practiced my reaction face in the bathroom. I went through some different options. One was way too exaggerated, the other not obvious enough. Finally I taught my face to contort in such a way that could convey my elation when the time came.

At 11:30pm, we headed out to midnight mass, which would be followed by the great unveiling of Mad's Bike. On the way out the door I ran into the lounge for one last look and saw a new gift. It was small and hard and was addressed to Mad. What was this? It made me uneasy and I asked Christel what it could mean. She wasn't fazed.

“Well he probably didn't want you to have nothing to unwrap cos you can't wrap a bike. He didn't want you to be upset that there wasn't anything under the tree for you. I bet it's a bike lock or something.”

Once again, Christel was throwing down some truth and once again, I was reassured. I fidgeted through mass then hurried everyone home and into the lounge. We handed out the presents and the unwrapping began. We always unwrap gifts one at a time in age order so Temara went first. I looked at my small pile of presents and wondered if I should open Dad/Santa's one first or leave it till the end for the big finish. I decided I couldn't wait and when it was my turn, I grabbed the small gift and unwrapped it.

It was a cricket ball.

I turned to Dad to say thanks but also to see if he was on his way out of the room to collect my bike. He was just sitting there, grinning at me, and said

“You're welcome, I figured you could use a new ball for the nets.”

And that was it. Everyone took turns unwrapping their presents until it was only Christel and Bernard still unwrapping because somehow they always got the most presents. The whole time, Christel and Temara were looking over at me, then looking over at Dad, trying to figure out what was going on. Why was he taking so long to bring out the bike? Finally everyone was done and went downstairs to watch a movie. I walked out very slowly, waiting to be called back, but no call came. I never did get to use that reaction face I had practiced and I hope I never do.

Later, while we were in bed about to sleep, Christel seemed more upset than me about the whole thing.

“I was so sure you were gonna get a bike! That's so weird.”

I used all my little kid willpower to not say anything to Dad about it and life continued. Then a week later, we were in Hastings for a cricket tournament and Ken hit my cricket ball over the fence of the motel where it would be lost forever. I was cut. This was my main christmas present and now it was gone, thanks to Ken. For the hundredth time that trip, I went to Dad to complain about something Ken did. He was trying to stuff everything back in the van so just said

“Who cares, we'll get a new one, it was only $10 anyway.”

When we got back home, I went to Joe with my sad sob story and tried not to cry while I was telling it. When I got to that last quote from Dad, Joe laughed so hard it immediately made me feel better. And so birthed the Dad concept of “this will be a funny story later”.

Perhaps it was karma, perhaps it was irony, perhaps it was Dad, but two years later Christel went through the exact same thing on her sixteenth birthday with a non-existent car for a present. We have yet to uncover the thought processes that occur in Dad's mind during these episodes and I don't think I ever want to. Because that's just Dad, the Dad we all love and the master of build-ups.

Happy Fathers Day Dad, I love you.

P.s. There's a brand new barbecue in the mail for you so keep an eye out.