Tuesday, July 5, 2016

An Ice Cream Cone and the American Dream

When my grandfather died almost 25 years ago, I was surprised by my uncle's (my mom's brother's) eulogy. Not because he discussed the shortcomings of their relationship as father and son, but because he characterized it by saying his father never took him for an ice cream cone when he was a child.

It wasn't until this summer that I understood what he meant. I'm sure I knew all along, but I finally made a connection.

When my wife and I went to Florida last week to visit my best friend from high school, he mentioned in passing that he picked up a gallon of ice cream for me so I would have some while we visited. (This was later coupled with a quest to find an ice cream stand I remembered from an earlier trip. We found it, eventually. The line was as long as shit, so we didn't wait.)

Of all the things, my buddy could've grabbed for me, why ice cream? It made me curious. Ice cream means something. Kind of like that fucking mountain of mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But why?

Slowly, the pieces fell in place. My parents were both raised in poverty. They didn't get along as best as they could've as a married couple, but they both worked their asses off to provide a better life for their children. My brothers and I (and our wives) all do the same. We work until we have no energy left and then work some more so we can give our children the best possible lives. We want better for them. That's the American Dream. It's all shown in our love of ice cream. It's a fucking rite of passage. Handing our children an ice cream cone and saying, "Here, this is for you. I'm taking time away from everything else I do to give you this because I love you and want you to be happy in life." We take ice cream seriously. We go from place to place trying to find the best. My children can tell you exactly where to get my favorite.

Consider this. My dad travels to NC to visit us twice a year. He always includes in his trip a weekend jaunt to PA. He goes there under the guise of attending a Mack truck show. (Yes, he's a bad-ass truck driver.)

He really goes there because he wants ice cream. I have proof. He took over 100 photos when he went up there earlier this month, but only two of them were of ice cream. The rest were all Mack trucks. So? Guess which two he made me download onto my computer so I can show my children? They mean something. He knows how to show he loves us. His grandchildren might not drive trucks, but they'll sure as fuck appreciate good ice cream.

A couple of nights ago, he calls me while watching the Mets lose. This is typical. Like the football Giants, he's the biggest fan I've ever met but hates all the players. Anyhow, during the talk, his tone changes abruptly. "Seriously, Tommy," he says. This is the voice of my childhood. The voice that wants to know exactly what that bus driver did to me before my dad goes to have a "talk" with him. This is I'm a little scared right now, Daddy. "What's up, Dad?" He says: "How can you say you like that ice cream place near your house better than the one in Pennsylvania, if you've never even tried it?" I sigh. "Dad, I'm teasing you." There's a pause. Then he says, "Cause you know they have more flavors up there, right?" "I know, Dad." Then the conversation goes back to the Mets or music or one of the hundred other things my old man enjoys talking about, and I daydream about stories he's told me of how he'd run to the corner store with a quarter in his pocket when he was a kid so he could bring ice cream back home to his parents.

This isn't to exclude my mom and her love of ice cream from the conversation. I can't remember going anyplace or anywhere with her when we were young without this inquiry: "You want ice cream, Tommy?" Which really means she wanted it, of course. I have more Daddy stories because I'm a Daddy's boy, not because I don't recognize the love and hard work my mom put into taking care of her three boys while my dad was out on the road.

I can't tell you how to raise your children. You have to do that for yourself. Sharing an ice cream cone is a way of showing love in our family. Apparently, it rubs off. Think of my Florida friend. And this: on the last day of school each year, my wife takes our children to ice cream for dinner. Pretty fucking awesome, huh? If you're looking for a way to connect with your kids (or your grandkids), steal this idea. There's plenty of ice cream to go around. And I get the feeling they won't stop making it anytime soon.