“Dad, could I write a blog post for Father’s Day?”
Sure, Evan. So with that, please enjoy the first guest post in the 15 years this blog has been hanging out in this corner of the web.
Hey there. You might remember me as the kid that used to be in the header image to this blog. Or, if you’re a really seasoned follower of the Pen of Jeff Ash (older than dirt, as dad would say), you followed my adventures in the “Green Bay Update” column that dad wrote for South End Zone from 1998 to 2006. If the website (which is still going strong!) is to be believed, my adventures were “a popular part of each update.” Dad made sure in these columns to note that I “dissolved into tears” when my Pinewood Derby car lost in the double elimination tournament (hey, I was 8 and more concerned with a cool-looking car rather than aerodynamics) and that I was one of the “less talented” kids on the local SAY recreational soccer teams. Thanks for that, Pops. I’m sorry in advance to greatly date anyone who knew me from the above-mentioned references, but I’m 27 now, living in Maryland and coming up on year four of my Ph.D. program in history.
You might be wondering why I’m invading the pages of AM, then FM. No, I’m not guest writing a piece about vinyl. I lost the ability to enjoy my vinyl collection, assembled from new discs, music store finds, and, of course, pilfered from mom and dad’s vinyl collection, when mom and dad insisted that we donate dad’s venerable old Sony stereo system (which I’d taken to college, then grad school) when I moved into the tiny bedroom in my first house in Maryland back in 2019. More on that later.
Father’s Day is around the corner (I’m off to Rocky Gap State Park to go camping with my girlfriend this weekend, so I’m writing this on Friday afternoon), and I thought that this would be a nice present for dad and a chance for those who’ve followed my exploits since the dawn of the internet to see how I turned out. Jury’s still out on that one.
Moving to Maryland was the first time that I’d really felt far away from my parents. I didn’t go far for college, as you probably know. Just across town. Mom and dad never missed a show of mine, but I didn’t really spend much time at home outside of breaks until my senior year, when it was nice to get away from campus drama and the shitty coin-operated laundry machines at my apartment. Grad school was more of a challenge, but we all adapted nicely to it. Mom and dad came down for Thanksgiving in 2017 and managed to throw together a respectable feast in my tiny garden apartment kitchen. Then, once I joined Glee Club and Collegiate Chorale, they had a routine vacation down to Oxford that they made twice a semester, still making it to all my concerts. Mom was in Vegas for one, but that’s okay. It was a lousy concert. For a family that doesn’t take a lot of vacations, our trips to Southwest Ohio are the closest thing we get. Mom and dad get to enjoy the scenic 8-hour drive, stop at their favorite roadside restaurants, and we all get to enjoy the fruits of Cincinnati, Ohio, the greatest city in the world.
But moving to Maryland, and the subsequent world global health crisis that ensued, made things difficult. I was no longer a quick 8-hour drive away, and with the planet grinding to a halt in March 2020, planning to see each other became more difficult. However, we did start a new quasi-tradition of calling weekly-ish on Google Hangouts. I, in glorious HD on my wide-angled webcam, and mom and dad in what must be 480p, crammed into dad’s office. Mom and dad have made it out here a couple times, including a Christmas concert of mine. I give them a pass on concert attendance nowadays since the livestreaming infrastructure at Maryland is quite sophisticated.
Various events in the last couple of years inspired me to write this piece, which I originally brainstormed as a reflection on how dad contributed to the man that I developed into. As you know, and as my mother has become fond of saying, you don’t need a DNA test to figure out the relation there. As mom, dad, Joanna and I convened on scenic Burlington, Wisconsin, a few weeks ago for my cousin Beau’s wedding, we all took a picture together where dad and I are making the exact same face. As mom says. No DNA required. I’m shorter and my hair is longer, but otherwise, identical.
I also made a conscious choice a couple of years ago to start going to the bar that dad used to drink at, the venerable Pump Room, our local tavern. When I first moved, I would invite my friends in the area out to Titletown Brewing for some farewell drinks the night before I was due to leave, but this has since evolved to going out with just a few of my closest friends to the Pump Room. It’s quieter, the beer is cheaper, and the cheeseburgers are out of this world (Joanna, you’ll come around to them eventually). The last time I was there with a longtime pal of mine, Collin, Kathy was tending bar (if you know, you know). I gave her my card to pay for our drinks, and she comes back and goes “You’re Jeff’s son, aren’t you? Well, tell him that Dale O’Brien and Jim Zima are back in town on Wednesday.” That gives you a sense of how long it’s been since dad drank at the Pump Room regularly. As we walked out, Collin remarked to me “That’s the nicest I’ve ever seen her be to someone.” That, dear readers, is the Jeff Ash Effect.
Another moment of inspiration occurred when we were in Cincinnati last weekend exploring town before my Glee Club Reunion Concert. Whenever we’re in town, dad loves to hit up Shake-It Records, a long-running Northside record store. We each look for our own thing. Dad hunts for the classic funk and soul records, I look for movies and underground comics. I’ve always tagged along, with varying degrees of interest, to the record stores that dad pokes around in wherever we travel. I vividly recall, around the age of 9 or 10, staring incredulously at all the bongs and other weed paraphernalia that were behind the counter at the Electric Fetus in Duluth, MN, our family’s longtime vacation destination. Less fun were the trips in middle school to Mad City Music Exchange in Madison, where I couldn’t bear to be in the store for any time at all. But now, I happily go along, though, as I mentioned above, I’m not buying vinyl. Just CDs and movies.
I also started reading dad’s blog more, taking in dad as a writer, and not just dad as dad. My favorite things to read are always his meticulously researched end of year They Always Go In Threes. I don’t know how he does it. Most recently, his blogs on the shuttering of the Exclusive Company (another “Hey, you’re Jeff’s kid” place), and his recent dry spell in record hunting. I feel that. The comics I’ve bought are few and far between these days as well. As the years pass, I feel more and more like dad. And that’s okay. Dad’s a great writer, I hope to be one too. Dad’s a great historian, I hope to be one too. And one day when I’m ready, I hope I can be a great dad like dad’s been to me.
So, dad, thanks for all the morning motivation texts. I promise I read and appreciate them, even if I don’t text you back. Thanks for all the “FYI” or “Perhaps of interest” stuff you send my way on Twitter. Sometimes it is, in fact, of interest. Thanks for the virtual green handshakes (where dad will, without warning, send me an odd small sum of approximately 26 dollars). Thanks for
the predilection for all things old. Thanks for passing on your lack of athletic talent, which I funneled into other pursuits. Thanks for saving my bacon when I would have moved into an apartment that would have made me broke. Thanks for taking over my gig as East High basketball announcer, still connecting us to East almost ten years later. Thanks for making Joanna happy by talking about my boneheadedness when I’m not around. Thanks for being my #1 fan across the years and across the states.
Thanks for being my dad. I love you.
Dad has given me so much good advice that it’s hard to remember. But in the spirit of dad embarrassing younger me, I’m going to list the few times that dad has been wrong in his life.
- Despite your claims otherwise, I did not grow into those large and XL shirts while I was still in high school.
- Sorry to report, dad, but it’s not the ’70s anymore. People wear all kinds of high school clothing at college.
- Dad, we did not need to get rid of that stereo.
(This is the stereo in question, seen as it was being moved from dorm room to apartment in 2016.)