I don’t remember hearing my father laugh.
Not in my childhood. Not in my teenage years. Not even in my twenties.
I’d seen him in many states. Emotionally mushy. Singing and dancing. But not laughing. Not the kind of laughter that comes with true mirth and uncontrollable enjoyment of a moment.
He must have laughed at some point, perhaps when he was a child. As one in a sibling team of thirteen, being as close with them as I know he is, he must have laughed with at least one of his sisters or brothers, I’m sure. I just never heard it.
I do remember my father playing a prank on us once when I was a young teen. We had returned from a party at a relative’s home and my father had parked the car in the underground parking lot of our apartment building. We had all come out of the car before him but, somehow, he had made it back to the apartment before us.
As I opened the door, he had jumped out from behind it. I think he’d had a small keyring flashlight shining onto his face and it was totally dark behind him. The image he’d created of himself in that moment was shadowed and ghostly. I only remember screaming. He may have laughed then, but I was seriously too shocked and scared and caught up in my own fear to pay attention to him.
During my childhood and teen years, we had spent a great deal of time with a distant relative uncle and his family. His beautiful wife was always laughing. I was perhaps thirteen or fourteen years old when I began to understand some of what she was saying; her stories were quite bold and bawdy. I loved that about her. She was always making us laugh. But even with her, I honestly do not recall hearing my father laugh.
Or perhaps, it was me. I was a shy, bookworm of an introvert. Never really paying attention to the outside world. Emotionally, I was lost in my own internal worlds and did not really begin to see the physical world around me until I was about nineteen years old and realized that my parents were human beings like me. Making mistakes, but trying to do their best.
While growing up, my father was primarily the disciplinary parent. For me, he appeared to be someone who took everything in life very seriously. Even when he was dancing, it was as though he were concentrating and being cautious with every step. I suppose all my childhood concepts about my father had influenced my adult perceptions as well. They created a narrow-fielded view of him. Perhaps that’s why I never saw that he could laugh.
My step-mother’s brother-in-law is a comedian in our family. His jokes often included episodes with his wife and her family members-mainly her sisters-which sometimes upset them-but he is the only person I know who can make my father laugh out loud.
When I heard him laugh – and laugh loudly at that, I was already in my thirties. It was a very surprising moment in time for me. I had never before seen this side of my father. He was laughing so loudly and so long that I think he may have actually had tears flowing down with the laughter. I stopped to pay attention to it. It was a sound I had not heard before. It was also the last time I heard him laugh. He is always smiling but never really laughing.
I know that he is happy when he sees his children around him, but he was never one for telling jokes and neither are we. None of his children appear to have a funny bone in our bodies so we cannot make him laugh. Smile, yes. But not laugh.
It’s a sad thing. Seeing and hearing your father laugh only once in your life.