My dad was never good at expressing his emotions. Then he joined Facebook.
I’ve been friends with my dad my whole life, but when I saw his Facebook friend request, I panicked.
Accepting it would give him a window into my life, which at the time (it was 2009; I was a junior in college) consisted mostly of binge drinking, unsuccessfully managing my depression and anxiety and dating a series of droopy, lonely BFA students. I worried that letting him see my Facebook updates would shatter his image of me.
Then I thought, well, my dad already knows I’m a total ding-dong. He and my mom spotted my anxiety early on and made mental health a priority for our family. He could see from the many Sundays I drove home to Littleton from Boulder, bleary eyed with a trash bag of laundry in the back seat, that I enjoyed a drink (or five). I figured there was no harm in letting him see the photographic evidence of my debaucherous existence. I expected some light lurking and maybe a few questions. I didn’t expect that a website that mostly seems to make people jealous and unhappy would bring my dad and I closer together.
My dad loves Facebook. He’s not a check-your-page-every-once-in-a-while type of guy. He’s an active, avid user. After working for the same company for 40 years?—?something that’s completely foreign to my generation?—?my dad retired last year. With an empty nest and with my mom still working, a lot of his free time is now screen time. Bernard doesn’t just use Facebook, he’s good at it. But that was no surprise. He’s always embraced new technology. As a child, our basement was covered in records, then cassette tapes, then towers of CDs. He even gave MiniDiscs a shot at one point (RIP, MiniDiscs).
I spend a lot of time on social media. I blame comedy for some of that. Social media is part of the entertainment game now. If you aren’t already established, you have to plug your shows, post photos, videos and jokes to get people interested in your brand, baby! Does that sound as gross as it feels? Besides trying to sell myself (please call me, Hollywood), I genuinely enjoy Facebook (for the most part). And the great thing about doing comedy is having funny friends and having your funny friends online.
Comedy is the linchpin of my relationship with my dad. It’s bonded us since I was two and he let me watch “The Simpsons” despite the objections of my mom, who didn’t want me pick up on Bart’s bratty behavior. (Eat my shorts, mom! JK, I love you.) My comedic education came from my dad. He introduced me to his favorites: “Monty Python,” “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “ALF.” My childhood was spent watching “Seinfeld,” “Ren & Stimpy,” the ever-changing TGIF line up, more “Simpsons,” “Daria,” “The Wayans Bros.” and “Beavis and Butt-head.” We watched a lot of movies?—?though he fast forwarded through the adult content. (I watched “Austin Powers” for the first time with my dad. When I saw it again, later, I realized he’d skipped about one-third of the movie.)
My dad got me hooked on comedy, so getting a laugh from him was something I coveted. He’s not a big laugher. He does a lot of smiling and nodding when he enjoys something, but that full body chuckle is a real prize. He’s a harsh comedy critic, so getting him to laugh is satisfying. Bernard is very funny himself. He’s a sarcastic New Yorker. He scared the shit out of all my nice, smiley suburban friends (and their nice, smiley suburban dads). No one ever knew if he was kidding, but that was normal for me.
Given the choice, I think my father would have gone into the arts, but that’s not an option growing up below the poverty line in 1970s Brooklyn. With no creative outlet, our family Christmas cards became his masterpieces. Every year he’d send a lengthy letter along with our Christmas cards. Months after the holidays, his coworkers and friends would tell me how much they enjoyed Bernie’s funny Christmas cards. His coworkers also told me how much my dad bragged about my sister and me (which was news to me).
My dad and I relate through comedy, but there’s a disconnect when it comes to expressing our admiration for each other. My dad is not a hugger and as a result, neither am I. I actively remind myself to hug my friends. My dad grew up Irish Catholic, the youngest of three children in Williamsburg during a time before craft cocktails and a general feeling of safety. When cabs would not go over the bridge and Brooklyn moms looked more like Edith Bunker and less like Hillary Duff. It was not easy and it was not warm. “Expressing yourself” and “hugging your children” were not a priority, thus my dad has some trouble communicating.
Since I moved to Chicago six years ago, Facebook has been an easy way for my parents to see what I’m up to. I mainly post show jokes and my dad “likes” almost all of them. He comments on my status, usually in an attempt to add on to the joke or one-up me. We get a little competitive. My friends started telling me (in person) how funny my dad was on Facebook. My friend Jen told me how cute it was that my dad likes and comments on all my statuses. “You can tell how much he loves you,” she said. She was right.
It took her saying it out loud for me to realize that this was our weird, stunted way of voicing our adoration and affection. With the internet completely littered with hateful trolls (and one running the country), I’m glad I have a benevolent one under my bridge.