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Dad and the Art of Debate:

I think that pointless arguing may have already been mentioned in reference to my father’s pastimes. It was, in fact, his only active hobby — apart from collecting suits.

You would have thought that someone who was that fond of engaging in contention would have managed to have been somewhat better at it.

Dad was of the opinion that people were at their best in an argument. If so, it becomes difficult to determine just what his optimum use or purpose might have been in the food chain. Or if he even had one. Unfortunately, an argument, to my father, was just an excuse to dive into a name-calling and general slanging match. There was no wit or finesse to it at all.

This would invariably be the case within a half-dozen exchanges.

Needless to say, having deliberately provoked someone into an argument, he would fling himself in, waving his hands in the air, shouting some of the most incredible bosh imaginable, typically laced with impossible threats, and garnished with totally absurd accusations.

For the first twenty years of my parents’ marriage he regularly threatened Ma that he would go off on the tramp and leave her. During the final ten years, he got more of a rise from her out of threatening to find himself another woman. (Neither contingency being even remotely likely occurances.)

After Ma’s death when he and I were rattling around under the same roof, his standard threat was to marry me off to anyone who would have me. (I would alternately ask him; “He and what army”, or; “Just how much of a dowry was he prepared to pay my prospective bridegroom to take me off his hands?” Neither response went down well.)

His favorite accusations were generally of the variety which are frankly unanswerable, and largely concerned with his opponent’s thought processes, values and belief systems. Since he was neither clairvoyant, telepathic, nor particularly perceptive, the stated fruits of these convictions tended toward the bizarre.

Some time after his death, Ida brought the subject up, describing some of the more typical examples and with an air of hurt feelings asking me where he got such ideas, and whether he could have possibly believed the accusations he was making.

I was able to assure her that these were the same accusations, verbatim, which he had routinely hurled in Ma’s face all the while that I was growing up, and with little or no editing, in mine afterwards. I gave it as my opinion that he had, in fact, spent most of his life endlessly replaying the squabbles which he had originally had with his younger siblings back on the farm sometime prior to 1910.

Certainly he is the only adult that I have ever known who, in the heat of a quarrel, would actually be heard to utter the immortal phrase;

“Poo-poo on you!”