Shell Shocked: My Father, the Early Bird
I have wonderful memories of my father. He was a good man, a good provider and proud of his sons. However, if he had one annoying trait that often made me want to scream at him, it was his tendency to arrive early for appointments.
If my wife and I invited him to lunch at, say noon, he would arrive at 11 a.m. If I arranged to pick him up by car to take him somewhere, he’d be standing in front of his building for an hour before I arrived.
He’d show up for dinners at restaurants an hour early, at the theater an hour and a half early and for trains two hours early. He once had a 6 p.m. flight to go overseas and I volunteered to take him to the airport. He insisted I pick him up at 1 pm.
I said, “Dad, why do you insist on showing up for appointments an hour early? Don’t you realize that you may be inconveniencing people by doing this?”
He smiled at me as though I were a moron. “You should never be late for an appointment,” he said. “It’s just impolite to keep people waiting. It’s a sign of disrespect.”
“But, Dad,” I replied. “Isn’t it just as disrespectful to show up so early that people aren’t prepared for your visit? Don’t you remember the time we invited you for breakfast and you arrived so early we were still asleep? We had to scramble to get things ready while you fidgeted in the living room. That wasn’t a lot of fun.”
He wouldn’t budge. He said that it was better to be early than to be late. So I asked him why he couldn’t plan things to maybe be a little bit early not an hour or more.
He said, “You can’t trust the buses and subways. They can break down and then I’d be nervous that I would be late. I just can’t deal with being late. I can’t have you or anybody opening your door, looking at your watch and saying, ha, you’re 10 minutes late. I would rather not show up at all.”
“But, Dad, it’s not so terrible to be a few minutes late. Things happen. There are always good excuses. But for you to arrive an hour early and sit around because we’re simply not ready is really an inconvenience as much as I love you,” I replied.
When my father said that he’d rather spend the extra time in my home than on a stalled train, I knew I couldn’t win that argument. So I tried something different. I decided to invite him an hour later than the time we actually had in mind. My wife and I wanted to invite him to lunch at noon, so we told him we’d be expecting him at 1 p.m. We thought for sure we had found the solution.
But then the door bell rang at 11 a.m. It was my dad. I said, “Dad, what are you doing here? We invited you for 1 pm. We’re nowhere near ready for you.”
Once again he smiled the smile of the ancient wise man pandering to his nincompoop son. “You invited me for 1 p.m. Who eats lunch at 1 p.m.? So I thought you didn’t want me to come too early and you really meant 12 o’clock. So I’m here for the 12 o’clock lunch.”
Lesson learned. I had no rejoinder for that piece of logic. From that day on whatever time we chose for my father to be somewhere we simply expected him an hour early. And we would never be disappointed.