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A Slurp for the Ages on Father's Day

A daughter's comic gesture prompts reflections on how loved ones remain in our lives through many generations... and influence younger loved ones they never had the chance to meet.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week our little girl giggled and made a little comic sour face as she slurped water from a swimming pool and paddled away in my arms going (Simon makes slurping sound). Boy, did she make me laugh. Soon as I asked myself, `Where did she ever learn that?' I realized from me. She was imitating her father when I inadvertently slurp some pool water or sip scalding coffee or foul medicine and go (Simon makes slurping sound) to make her laugh. Later that night I remembered, that little look and gesture is something I absorbed from my father when he used to take a sip of hot and sour soup, his rancid ulcer medication or stiff whiskey and go (Simon makes slurping sound) just to make me laugh. A bit of stage business from an old comedian makes its way decades later into the face of a little girl from central China. My father has been gone for many years, but I glimpsed him this week in the face of the granddaughter who will know him only from photos and stories.

I don't believe in ghosts, but I do believe that fathers, even after they pass on, continue to show up in our lives in literal, physical ways. It can be as simple as the way we walk or hold a pencil; for boys, whether we put our socks and shoes on before or after our pants. Our fathers' very voices can echo in our minds when we hear ourselves utter an expression that we used to find odd and maybe even mock in our fathers. I used to roll my eyes when my father would explain some new disappointment by saying, `That's showbiz.' I overhear myself saying that now.

My father was funny, but not always wise. He could be foolish, anxious and wrong as much--sometimes even a little more--than anyone else. I knew I was growing up when I could begin to recognize the foolishness. I was especially perceptive when I was 16. But I didn't become an adult myself until I began to detect the foolishness in me.

One of the great anxieties I think fathers can have as their children grow--I'm beginning to feel it even now--is whether their children still find them fun. We know and crave the ways in which we can be useful. Youngsters need clothes, books, music and increasingly sophisticated toys that can now seem as intricate as the first space capsules. Now and then children even have questions for fathers that baffle Internet search engines. How do you know you like someone? What happens when we die--not that we know. But fathers also want to know that their children find them fun, that the time they spend together is more than a chore or duty, but something that can make them laugh. Who knows where in the world a father's joke and a child's smile might end up one day?

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SANDRA CHURCH: (Singing) Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile. Let me do a few tricks, some old and then some new tricks. I'm very versatile. And if you're real good...

SIMON: Sandra Church. And the time is now 18 minutes past the hour.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small