Those horror movies, in which average men are transformed into unspeakably gruesome monsters, are light comedies compared to the sheer terror I experienced when I noticed I was turning into my father--something I'd always promised myself would never happen. Yet it was happening--and painfully slowly, unlike the rapid transformations of the horror movies. And unlike the victims in the horror movies, there would be no antidote to reverse the process for me. The most I could hope for was a merciful stake through the heart.
Oh, sure--it began, innocently enough, with the little things--the appearance of a gray hair here, the need for eyeglasses there, a fascination with the Metamucil product shelf at Rite-Aid.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have sought immediate help, therapy, support groups, channeling Justin Timberlake, something to attempt to stop the excruciatingly embarrassing process.
But, no. Ever since Diane Adelstein, in the third grade, informed me that the sight of me made her "barf," I never could take a hint. I continued to pursue her, just as I now continued to pretend I wasn't turning into my father.
But the signs of my becoming him were non-stop. I started buying "comfortable-fit" pants, which went well with my new polyester shirt.
I actually found myself looking at an ad for Hush Puppies and thinking, those shoes look comfortable and kind of stylish, really.
I was this close to wearing black support-socks, Bermuda shorts, wing-tips, and one of those World's Greatest Dad T-shirts.
After that, it was only a question of time before I'd be in the back yard, barbecuing, wearing a Kiss The Chef apron, and calling my son "Sport."
I'd watch "Dragnet" and find myself agreeing with Officer Joe Friday, when he lectured some worthless punk about the value of getting a good education and a job.
I started watching movies from the thirties and forties, and telling anyone within earshot, "They don't make 'em like that anymore." When accused of having fallen asleep at my computer, I'd respond, "I wasn't sleeping; I was resting."
Amazingly, I found myself reciting to my children, almost verbatim, the various "Dad Phrases" that had been drummed into me by my father: Because I Said So--That's Why; When You're A Parent, You Can Stay Up 'Till Midnight Too; I Don't Care How Long You Sit Here--You Will Finish Those Vegetables; Get That Rubber Spider Out Of Your Sister's Mashed Potatoes Now!
My reading habits really suffered. I went from enjoying "Rolling Stone" magazine to Consumer Reports three-part series on life insurance. I went from reading "Playboy" to "Men's Health." From "Sports Illustrated" to "U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter." I got monthly invitations to join the American Association of Retired Persons. Yes, even they sensed the change.
The Hair Monster attacked, insuring that hair would appear in places it had never been before--my back, my ears, my nose... and those are only the places I can describe politely in public.
Just as dad had done with me, I found perverse pleasure in sharing with my son the variety of Medieval torture procedures my doctors used to explore areas of my body traditionally seen only in very specialized movie houses for audiences whose prime concern isn't plot or character motivation.
It only got worse. I'd find myself suddenly remembering jokes and gags that were old when Bob Hope was born, and trying them out on innocent victims too young to recognize how lame the material was.
I stooped to using puns. I made embarrassing sound effects with various parts of my body. I made up stories of things I'd supposedly done in various wars, meetings with super-stars, or encounters with outer space aliens. I sang songs way too old even to be on the oldies stations.
Did my peer group try to stop any of this? Ha! They encouraged it. We'd sit around reminiscing about how good things used to be and how everything is now deteriorating. We'd try to top each other with current and past medical problems and operations. We'd pass around wallet photos of our children and actually use the expression, "Is this a million-dollar face?"
One could make the argument that there are worse things in life than a man finding himself turning into his father. He could find himself turning into his a criminal, or an attorney, or his mother.
So why did I find it so disturbing? Was it because it signaled the end of youth, the end of rebellion, the end of hipness? Was it that I felt my own identity sucked out of me and replaced by that of someone convinced that rock concerts are Satan's playground? Or was it that I was simply on edge until Monday, when I was to find out the results of my prostate exam?
Whatever the case, I knew how to deal with it: I raided the fridge for some Mylanta, settled into my Barcalounger with the latest "Reader's Digest," and proceeded to enjoy a vintage episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." They sure don't make 'em like they used to. Hey, come over here and pull my finger. No, it's no trick; you'll enjoy it--I swear.