Hilarious. Psychotic. Flaky. Artistic. This peculiar combination of words only begins to depict the eccentric personality of my surrogate father, Mr. B. Providing guidance and permanence, delivered with wit and obscenity, this man offers a conflicting package of life lessons and humorous memories that profoundly affects my approach to life. Whether teaching me to laugh at absurdities, rejoice in differences, or struggle inexorably against adversity, this complex human, encapsulated in the inconspicuous body of a middle-aged father, has enhanced and ignited my curiosity with this world.
“Maca-tiiiii-ni!” his braying falsetto voice would reverberate down the hallway of the school. Mr. B’s short, yet athletic body followed the verbal summons, prancing in an awkwardly inelegant manner, successfully making himself the center of attention. He reached me through the crowd of students and pounded my shoulders with his “fists of fury”. His outrageous behavior, once embarrassing, now seemed oddly comforting. His habit of mocking the ridiculous, trivial name-calling of youth seemed humorous as he delivered it. Once teased by others because of my unusual name, I learned to accept the title through Mr. B’s strange habit of calling me by any name other than my own. Becky, Lisa, and Midge were my usual nicknames. Unlike other adults’, with their lectures about the principles of sticks and stones, Mr. B’s world transcended into the world of youth. His preposterous mimicry allowed me to laugh at the heartlessness of cruel words. His parodies emphasized the potential unimportance of words and stressed the significance of actions. He taught me to laugh at myself when necessary and enjoy the ridiculousness of life. Whether enduring the pain of shyness, size thirteen shoes, or a bad grade, Mr. B. encouraged me to approach the indignities of being a teenager with humor, and a certain amount of reckless abandon for that which you cannot control.
Quite the literary savant, as a successful writer and journalist, Mr. B used words unreservedly and vociferously. Public places were filled with his clever rants of swear words, odd phrasings, and vernacular descriptions of body parts. This insufferable habit caused me to blush, to look downward, and to wish for the power to transport myself away. However, with time, I began to appreciate the freedom of his language. Mr. B did not fear the consequences of using “forbidden” words; he challenged society’s definitions of appropriateness. His occasional unsuitability was a perspective of the immediate community, not necessarily the reality of his words. I learned to accept the differences of personalities and perceptions. He taught me that the beliefs of others should not influence your own voice. His actions and words demonstrated the vitality and interest that diversity of beliefs can bring to a population.
Recently, Mr. B raced his bicycle down the steep hill adjacent to his home and fell. The resultant brain injury irreversibly changed his life. The medication proved as difficult as the initial trauma. While taking the pejoratively nicknamed, “supermodel drug” (“because it keeps me thin and stupid”), Mr. B suffered a fading capacity for words. He was unable to read or write and watched his livelihood crumble. Enduring inexplicable torment, he kept smiling. His enthusiastic grin and rowdy attitude demonstrated his willingness to adjust his life to fit with the new parameters. His focus and creativity resulted in new paths. Today, after succeeding as an artist and a restaurateur, he is a fantastically successful cinematographer. As I am frustrated with the limitations and regulations of my school, he reminds me that there are many choices of paths, and that there is not one “right” answer, but rather, a multitude of choices. He reminds me that with creativity and self-examination, and a little humor and zealousness thrown in, journeys may take us to places that we had not imagined. He taught me that stubborn persistence overcomes anxiety and fear and that unexpected trials may lead to equally unexpected wonders.
His influences stretch far beyond the greater moral lessons of life. He taught me that the t-shirts from the thrift store are crazier than the tees at the Gap, that nothing tastes better than homemade vanilla ice cream at the end of a summer’s day, and that every Tuesday is fajitas-for-dinner night. He gave me the stability and caring that was missing with my absentee biological father. He showed me that a punch in the arm meant the same as a hug, that it was all right to make silly faces through the classroom door window even when you were in high school, and that when life was not going right, nothing feels better than a game of “incredibly violent indoor ball tag”. Always funny, usually inappropriate, and never ordinary, Mr. B reflects the best in life. He lives by example. His actions demonstrate compassion and acceptance, humor and creativity, and most of all, love for life. To me, he was a friend, father, and hero. Mr. B has helped me to live my life in a way I like, and love every moment of it.