Barney Rubble's All-Seeing Eye

Twirl by Maryam Johnson //

Barney Rubble’s All-Seeing Eye by Jill Flanagan //

Every young girl fantasizes about her first kiss: the perfect date, the setting sun, the faint scent of his cologne. He looks into your eyes, and … BAM! Romance! “… his arms were around her, he bent back her head across his arm and kissed her, softly at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only solid thing in a dizzy swaying world. His insistent mouth was parting her shaking lips, sending wild tremors along her nerves, evoking from her sensations she had never known she was capable of feeling. And before a swimming giddiness spun her round and round, she knew that she was kissing him back.” Okay, so maybe I had read Gone with the Wind one too many times. 
I realize I was missing much more than Scarlet O’Hara’s magnolia-white-skin, green dress, and seventeen-inch waist, but I didn’t expect my first kiss to be on a school bus headed toward Disneyland for a band tour.  I probably wouldn’t have guessed that the guy’s response would be, “Wow. French Horn players really are the best kissers!” And I would have preferred to have my dad be a lot more absent than he was. That’s right. My dad. On the bus. Three rows back. The thing is, he was always around. Always.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have their dad teach and coach at their high school. I know you’re jealous.  After all, he was present for my first kiss. Generally, everyone likes my dad. He’s is a teacher passionate about history, government, and politics, and he would do just about anything to transfer his enthusiasm to his students. He expects kids to work hard and learn their stuff: no excuses. As a coach of cross-country and track and field of forty years, he knows what he’s talking about. Based on appearances, you might be surprised to discover this. Remember Barney Rubble from The Flinstones? They might have based that character off of my dad. They just drew Barney as my dad minus about 80 pounds. So what, he’s a fat track coach. There are more oxymoronic things to be. He loves it, and his athletes’ successes prove you don’t always have to practice what you preach.
You know how they say parents have eyes in the back of their heads? My dad never needed those, because the eyes in the front of his head were constantly focused on me. Seriously, how did that guy teach six periods a day, and still manage to be in every hallway I walked down? I wouldn’t mind the eyes nearly as much as his voice, “Hi, Beaner!” Yep, Beaner. That’s what he calls me. Always has. Probably always will. When I was really little, he would call me “Jilly Bean”. Beaner is the nickname of the nickname. To be fair, at least he had a name for me; most of my teachers, and half of the student-body knew me solely as “Mr. Flanagan’s daughter.” 
My dad’s sense of humor is hilarious (sarcasm implied). On family trips, he would point and say, “Haaaayyyyyyyyy!” causing us all to look up, expecting something exciting or unusual, only to see a pasture with cows, horses, and a big stack of hay. In the Flanagan family even the most serious family traditions can’t escape his humor.
Strains of “Silent Night” play quietly in the background. The delicious scent of apple pie and turkey emanate through the room, causing the rumbling of more than one stomach. Three, four, and five-year-olds squirm in their angel costumes with halos askew. Little Carson and Bryce fidget in over-sized bathrobes with towels on their heads. Autumn holds the newest cousin in her arms. The scowl on her face emits her displeasure at being not-so-gently persuaded to play Mary. 
“And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.”  My dad’s dramatic reading of the bible story could be used in movies, or at the very least in a Mormon church commercial, except for the fact that it always falls apart in the same place every year.
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” My brothers, sisters-in-law, my mother, the older grandchildren, and I all watch my dad carefully. A slight grin begins to creep onto his face. 
“Dad, don’t do it! Take a deep breath, and just finish the story so we can eat.” The grin grows to a smile.
“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.”
“Dad, NOOOOO!”
“It must have been a crowded manger!” The joke is always too irresistible. If only he would laugh like a normal person, we could all roll our eyes and move on. The problem is: my dad doesn’t breathe when he laughs. He tries to hold it in. His shoulders start shaking up and down just like a cartoon character. His face turns red. And my dad takes the opportunity every Christmas Eve to pass out! Hilarious.
I got a clear picture of my dad’s ever-presence the summer before I started 9th grade. High school was just around the corner. But first, I had to finish the summer with a bang. Two weeks before school started, I got a call from my best friend, Julie.
“Jill! Kyle is throwing a huge back-to-school party on Saturday night. We totally have to go!”
This would be our big chance to establish ourselves in the high school. No more would we be identified as the band and choir nerds that gather together on Saturday nights to watch “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” with the sound off so we could recite and act out all the lines! We would be the kind of kids that go to cool parties with cool people. And even if we were still in the band and choir, being invited to this party would support the fact that we, Julie and I, were, in fact, cool.
On the night of the party that would change my life forever, I told my parents I was going babysitting, and I met Julie to walk down to the party.
We could hear the music thumping a half-mile away. We walked into a house packed with high-school kids downing cans of Budweiser. As we ventured further into the house, I nudged Julie when I noticed a couple guys in a back room; sitting at a table snorting what I assumed was coke. Several people were smoking. Some cigarettes, most were smoking something else. Although I desperately wanted to be cool, I may have experienced some shock as I realized just what being cool entailed.  
We had only been in the house ten minutes when, above the cacophony of the band, I heard someone upstairs yell, “Mr. Flanagan! You came for a joint?”
I couldn’t believe my ears! My DAD was here????? More voices, “Hey Coach! You like to party?” “Flanagan’s here for a good time!” I was horrified! I started up the stairs where my dad stood looking down at me; a mixture of anger, disappointment, and fear displayed on his face.
We left immediately.
I was grounded for life, or until I could earn back my parents’ trust: whichever came first. I didn’t expect to have any freedom while my spirit still resided inside this body. Of course, regardless of my own poor choices, I blamed my lack of freedom on my father. I complained about how unfair my life was. I hated that I couldn’t take a breath (or have my first kiss) without my dad knowing about it. I hated listening to The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, or conservative talk radio every time we got in the van. I hated that I couldn’t have my own identity outside of “Mr. Flanagan’s Daughter”. 
Life has such a coarse way of taking a lesson, chewing it up, and spitting it in your face.  Twenty-five years and four children (three of whom are teenagers) later, I am wiping life’s expectoration off my brow. My children desperately wish their dad would play more of a part in their lives. Unfortunately, some wishes are completely beyond our control. What they have instead is a grandpa who is still watching out for the kids he loves. They have a grandpa who attends their track meets, piano recitals, sports banquets, and scout camps. He warns their dates, and befriends their friends. He has even traveled on a bus to California several times with them for cross-country meets. And I realize: maybe having a bad-joke-telling, nick-name-calling, Barney Rubble-look-alike dad around all the time was never so bad after all.