Hoover, if you had to pick three traits that you had to say encompass my existence, what would you say?
"Best aunt in the world" is one of those that people will say you can’t prove because it’s an "opinion," although we know it’s entirely a fact and very verifiable. But we’ll skip that one on the list for now. I know, I know, I think it’s weird to leave it off too. C’est la vie! The other top defining traits of your Aunt Vuh, though, correct me if I’m wrong here:
1. Obsessed with birthdays
2. Sentimental (but in a decidedly smart and thoughtful and un-cheesy way)
3. Unrelenting daddy’s girl
I think that really sums me up, don’t you? (Runner-up leading characteristics: naturally charming, left eye noticeably bigger than the right, only flaky when it’s something I really feel thumbs-middle on doing.)
This is all leading up to me telling you that for the past week I’ve been looking through a lot of old photos and listening to a lot of Cat Stevens and thinking a lot about my dad because today is his birthday. He would have been 63. Obviously you and our family and the whole rest of the world know how I feel about my dear old dad, and that’s probably not going to change any time soon. It’s like, WE GET IT, AUNT VERA, YOU WERE CLOSE, am I right?
Slow your roll, Puff the Magic Butt. Hear me out.
Sometimes I think about how you won’t ever get to know your Grandpa Bob, and that really bums me out, little man. Because he really would have loved you. I obviously don’t have outside perspective on what he was like with me as a kid, but I got to watch him with my cousin Bryan, the youngest of our generation of Herbert cousins, and he became such a goofball every time he was around that kid. He was a man who, sometimes surprisingly, had a real childish and mischievous streak. I can only imagine how excited he would have been every time he got to spend time with you, even on days when you were being a major grump-bot. You guys woulda been tight. Of this, I have zero doubt.
They say that people achieve immortality through their offspring. Their legacy lives on. Your dad and your Uncle Ian and me are that for our pops. Not just DNA-wise, but like, the way we think, the things we do, a lot of the weird habits we probably have come straight outta this guy:
Which is kinda neato, huh?
Now, here’s the thing. I know you think I give a lot of advice, but Dad was really the advice guru. Not always when you wanted it. In fact, a lot of the time when you didn’t. The man had opinions, Hoover. The bummer about being his kid who was as stubborn as him was that there was a lot of butting heads and then I basically always had to accept at the end that he was right and I did what he said and things unfolded the way they were supposed to. Ugh, you know? But he didn’t just give advice to me and the family, he liked giving it to everyone. From anyone in our social circles to a particular group of students he affectionately called his Desperados, no matter who you were, Bob Herbert wanted to tell you what to do.
For the past seven years, we haven’t had that in our lives. I consider this a great loss to the world. When I need to make decisions, I have to rely on what I think he would have told me based on similar situations that occurred during my first 18 years. It’s an imperfect system, but I feel like it usually works out okay. (When I’m still iffy, I obviously call your Babcia, ‘cause her advice game is usually pretty on-point, too.)
This is all a long way of saying: I don’t want you to miss out on Bob Herbert’s life advice. So for the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about a few of the things he taught me throughout my life that, whether I’m conscious of it at the time or not, I refer back to frequently when I’m working my way through existence. Things that I want to make sure we pass on to you. This list will be entirely too short and entirely inadequate. But it’s what I have for you right now; maybe it’ll be the first in a series. Anyway, here we go:
1. Be a little rebellious.
When I was a kid, I never realized my dad had a real subversive side. The time he wrote a note to our school about a fake religious holiday the family was observing to get me and my brothers out early one day probably could have clued me in. But I was more concerned with being perceived as weird. He was not someone who picked fights with normal just for the sake of doing so, but when the occasion called for it, he had no problem going against the grain and the system. Respect authority, but don’t be a drone to it. At my high school, canvas shoes were out of dress code. I remember one random day senior year when I really wanted to wear my Chuck Taylors. I debated if I could get away with it, and I remember him just being kind of amused and having a “live a little” attitude about it. I wore them. It was fine. I think he was proud that I became a little less of a square that day.
2. Don’t toot your own horn.
I think this was a very important thing to him. You can be smart or successful or whatever, but that doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Other people may not have had the opportunities or experiences you’ve been afforded. Dad hated when people were pretentious and full of themselves and needed everyone around to know just how intelligent or great they were. Take pride in your work, but don’t brag about it. If it’s good, it’ll speak for itself. So keep that chatty toddler trap of yours all zippered up, señorito.
3. Don’t be materialistic.
It was never important to Dad to have fancy things. The old Chevy Caprice station wagon that he drove for many years, which he and Mom dubbed The Chariot, was proof enough of that. (Can you imagine being picked up from middle school in such a car? Woof, man!) He didn’t believe in paying a lot of money on clothes or having new technology the day it came out or anything like that. The things you have are not who you are. Spend your money on people and experiences instead. You don’t have an allowance yet, so this one’s for later when you figure out how trick your parents into giving you one. Probably a few months away.
4. See the world.
I mean, the man was an anthropologist. He studied people and cultures for a living. Your dad and uncle and I were born on three different continents. Our parents really committed to the travel thing. The world is out there just waiting for you to explore it, kid! Go see it. Let it change you. Just be sure to get yourself a secret passport/money pouch you can loop on your belt or wear under your shirt so you won’t lose them or get them stolen. Got it? (By the by, you ever need an international travel buddy, your Uncle Ian is the best in the biz, and I’m sure he’d be happy to accompany you anywhere in the world you wanted to go. He’s good at reading a map and can use the placement of the sun to determine what direction you’re going. It’s pretty impressive.)
5. Call your mother.
Dad was dutiful in this respect. And trust me, when you grow up, your mom is really gonna dig it if you are, too. You started pre-school this week and I think she’s already prepping her own abandonment issues. Make sure you throw her some extra love when you come home from your days of puzzles and playgrounds, you got it?
Hoover, September 13th is a good day. It’s a day we celebrate the birth of a man who around 30ish years later proposed to a woman on a train, and then had to let her drink the bottle of booze he intended as a gift for her father in order to get a yes or no out of her. Because Polish ladies don’t make decisions sober. And thus began our little branch of the family tree, Puff!
So let’s pour one out for your Grandpa Bob today. But, like, a small amount. The man did not believe in being wasteful, and neither do we.
P.S. I know you think you’re the scowliest baby to ever grace this family with his presence, but look, bro, I was here first.