02 February 2013

Today is my father’s birthday. I’m in North Carolina celebrating with him and my sister. He’s in his 80s and his health is declining so every moment seems especially precious; even though I hope he's here for years to come.

When I was growing up, my father was a world class bullshi**er. My sister and I would often ask him questions and if he didn’t know the answer, he’d make one up. As a little kid, it took me a long time to catch on and I later realized it was probably to get us to shut up. He figured if he gave us some answer other than “I don’t know,” we’d pipe down in the back seat and it usually worked. The conundrum for me and my sister was that my father was so incredibly smart (and still is) and had so much basic knowledge on almost every topic that it was often impossible to tell when he was telling the truth and was simply smarter than all of the rest of us or was bluffing (the latter skill came in tremendously handy when he was playing poker, but more about that another time). 

My father was a financial planner by profession, but his passion is classical music. Soon after I left for college, he studied for his FCC license and became a DJ on  WCPE, the local classical radio station. His shifts were either very late at night or on the weekends so the station was closed except for the DJ. He loved being alone in the booth, just him and his classical music. Every hour, he had to make sure to sync up precisely with the BBC News, which WCPE aired live. Having lived in England between the ages of 11 and 22, Dad loved the BBC. 

Because of his fondness for classical music, my sister and I were raised on it. From the age of 5 or so, I went to classical music concerts with my mom and dad at North Carolina State University. NSCU had a program called Friends of the College and several times a year, we’d go hear the North Carolina Symphony or a visiting orchestra play. My first autograph was from conductor/violinist Eugene Ormandy. I still have it. 

Often when we were in the car or listening to classical music in the living room on the huge stereo dad bought (and Jeannie and I weren’t allowed to touch without permission), Jeannie and I would ask him who we were listening to. Sometimes we knew the names —Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Shubert, Chopin — but other times, he’d come up with a name so odd and one that we hadn’t ever heard before that we were sure he was making it up. Our favorite fake name was Albinoni. There was just no way that there was a composer named that, it was too silly. We accused dad of pretending to know the answer and that he was just playing with Italian like Chef Boyardee or Anna Maria Alberghetti (later, I learned that was a real person).

Dad very calmly told us he wasn’t making it up, but we refused to believe him. He’d fooled us so many times before and laughed and laughed when we’d finally bust him that we figured this was just one more time. Jeannie and I scurried to the encyclopedia (this was, of course, before the internet). Sure enough, there was Tomaso Albinoni, an Italian Baroque composer. 

To this day, more than 30 years later, when Dad spouts some fact that I have never heard of and I’m tempted to accuse him of making it up, I asked him if this is like Albinoni. He’ll smile and say yes and I’ll once again marvel at the man with more knowledge in his head than anyone I’ve ever known. Happy Birthday, Daddy!

In honor of Dad’s birthday, today’s $10 goes to WCPE. Maybe I’ll call and request a little Albinoni. 

31 down, 332 to go!

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