SUMMER OF SIXTY-EIGHT

Tired of feel-good Baby Boomer nostalgia? Here's a story about what life was really like in the Sixties. Please comment nicely!

People say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren't really there. This is what I remember about the summer of 1968.

I remember the anger and pain. Young men were dying in Vietnam. Whole cities were burning, aflame with racial violence. Police brutality was out of control, and drug addicts were overdosing everywhere, from ghetto streets to college campuses.

My father was sitting on the front steps. It was a hot summer day. I was only five years old, but it seemed like the hottest day I could remember. I was standing in the front yard with my little toy football, and I was bored. There were no other kids around. There were never any other kids around.

"Come on, dad, let's play football."

I didn't really expect him to do it. My father avoided all exercise. He was fat and sluggish, but even just sitting around in an old white t-shirt the sweat poured off him. All summer long my father smelled like beer and cigarettes.

"Come on, dad, let's play football. Why won't you play football?"

Fathers were different on TV. They were different in storybooks. They were young and healthy and they wore nice clothes. They liked being out in the sun. They liked playing with their kids.

"Come on, dad, let's play football."

If my dad was different from other dads, did that mean I didn't deserve any better? Why did my father have to be such a fat slob? Why couldn't I have a dad who did things like other dads?

"Come on, dad, let's play football. Why won't you play football?"

One thing I already knew about my father was that he had a long fuse. My mother could get angry over anything, or nothing, at the drop of a hat. My father had to be goaded for hours to come to life. And I liked goading him. I liked letting him know how much I hated him. I hated his sweat, his stink, his big fat belly and his ugly brown face. Most of all I hated the fact that I was always going to be different from other kids, just because he was always going to be different from other dads.

"Come on, dad, let's play football."

The longer I chipped away at him, the more excited I got. I was sure he was going to smack me in the face just like my mother. That didn't matter. Having a dad like mine was worse than getting smacked in the face. By this time I didn't really want to play football anyway. I was playing a much more dangerous game, pretending I was a boy with a real dad. A dad who got mad.

"Come on, dad, let's play football. Why won't you play football?"

My father finally exploded, but not in any way that might have made me like or respect him. He didn't show any sort of pride. He didn't display any strength.

"BECAUSE I MIGHT HAVE A HEART ATTACK AND DIE!"

People were dying everywhere in the summer of 1968. People were angry too. But nobody used dying as a crutch except my father. Even his anger was just one more sign of weakness.