I didn't know my father at all growing up. My parents had split up in Australia when I was very very young, and my mom came back to Oklahoma to raise me with her side of the family, which was the only family I knew. And for the next fifteen years, he was nonexistent in my life. I could have walked by him on the street and never known.
The best thing my mom did for me, though, was that she was completely honest about him. She didn't bad-mouth him, but she didn't whitewash him, either. "Your dad? Oh, he was a thief and a con man. You couldn't trust him as far as you could throw him. But he was charming, and a lot of fun. I wasn't an idiot - I knew he wasn't the stay-around type. But I got you out of it, and that made it all worth it." Shucks, mom, you're makin' me blush here! I love you, too.
Then, at 19, I heard that he had become a stand-up comedian, and a pretty successful one at that. A while later, I saw him for the first time - on tv. He was a guest comedian on the Tonight Show. It was an emotion that I'm pretty sure most people haven't had the opportunity to experience - that of seeing your long-lost father for the first time, on national tv, talking about van seats. (I bet there's a word for it in German. Those guys have a word for everything.)
In retrospect, my response was fairly subdued. As best I can remember, my reaction was, "Huh. So that's what he looks like. Well, gotta get to class." Yeah, I'm a drama queen.
But even though I was neither ecstatic nor distraught, I was intensely *curious* about this mystery person from my past. It never occurred to me to seek him out, but I spent a lot of time speculating about him. He was, by far, the most interesting person "in" my life - traveling salesman, con man, thief, seducer of women, world traveller, and now he was a comedian on tv? Who the hell did this guy think he was?
He was who I secretly wanted to be myself. My childhood fictional heroes were rogues and scoundrels, from Harold Hill in The Music Man to Robert Heinlein's rebels and explorers on the fringes of society. And all of sudden, the closest thing to those "heroes" I'd ever heard of in real life had turned up, and he was my father? I think that's why my reaction was so muted - it was all just too ridiculous to be taken seriously.
Still, when I saw with surprise my dad's name on the marquee of Joker's Comedy Club in Oklahoma City, announcing he would be headlining in a couple of weeks, I was *damn* well going to go.
I showed up that night with a couple of friends. I was only 20, but I managed to talk the doorman into letting us in, mostly on the strength of a driver's license with the same name as the headliner. He sat us at a table in the front row, just right of center stage. We were all of about 10 feet away from the microphone. Best seats in the house.
A couple of opening acts came and went, and then, finally, my dad comes out. I was pleased to find that my dad is a *very* good comedian. He was rocking the house, and I was laughing with the rest of them. I forgot about being there to "meet my father," and had become just another laughing audience member.
And then the Universe handed me the greatest straight line anyone has received in the History of Ever...
My dad started talking about his name. "My last name really is Shock," he said. "Everyone thinks it's a stage name. It's not. I didn't make it up, I was born with it. Shock is my real name."
See, it's a lead-in to a joke about all the crap he's gotten for his name, but how he knew a guy with an even worse name in the Army. He was cut off, though, because just then, some guy waaaay in the back of the club yells out, "Yeah!"
When you're on stage, you can't see the crowd. The stage lights blind you and everything beyond the first row of tables is just darkness. My dad stared out into the shadows of the club and asked, "Do we have another Shock in the audience?"
"Yeah!" the voice came back. (You know, after 20+ years, it just occurred to me: who was that guy?)
Remember that straight line I mentioned? Drum roll, please.
My dad says - I shit you not - "I hear I have a son around here somewhere. Maybe you're him."
And from that table just right of center stage, that he can just *barely* see, a voice just loud enough for him to hear says, "No. No, he's not."
That may be the only time I've gotten the punchline in on my dad. Rimshot. Ba-dum dum.
My dad turned toward my voice and stared past the lights at my table. I just smiled and waved, with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. He took a half-second to process it, and *click*. He turned 180, put his back to the audience. walked to the back wall... and laughed. And laughed and laughed for I don't know how long, in his loud distinctive way, each "Ha!" clearly and sharply articulated.
The audience had no idea what was going on. They had neither heard nor seen our interaction. To their eyes, he had just dead stopped in the middle of the act and gone into hysterics.
It felt like forever, but it was probably only 30 seconds. Just as quickly as he'd started laughing, he stopped. He turned back to the audience, took the microphone, and said, "...but let me tell you about a guy in the Army who had an even worse name." The joke was back in play. He finished out the rest of his set as if nothing had ever happened, not a word of explanation to the audience.
After his act, the audience stood in line to shake his hand, tell him they were big fans, that they'd seen him once in Texas, all the usual things. I waited my turn in line patiently, and eventually there we were, face to face at long last.
He leaned in, stared closely at me, and said slowly, "Hudson?"
I smiled and stuck out my hand, "Hi, Dad. It's been a long time. How've you been?"
And with that, my dad decided he liked me. Eventually, I decided I liked him, too, and we've been good friends ever since.