Two for Father’s Day.

The two bits that follow, “Tits” and “Flicker,” are shortened versions of stories published a while back in different parts of this website. They’re here now because when I wrote them I described time spent with my dad. And, well, it’s Father’s Day.


I’m ten years old, and my dad and I are driving to a White Sox game. I’m happy. Going to see baseball, get hot dogs, hang out with my dad.

As we’re waiting for a light I see a Tufted Titmouse in a tree. Never saw one ‘til then. I say, “Hey, a titmouse.”

My dad thinks all birds are called birds. Maybe some are called chickens or turkeys, and I guess he’d know an eagle, but he doesn’t get into it more than that.

“A what mouse?”

I’d recently been forced to study birds in school so I knew this was a Tufted Titmouse. No big deal.

But it was the beginning of my being teased about birds.

Titmouse. My dad laughed a good belly laugh.

“We saw a titmouse today,” he’d tell friends.

Whenever I went hiking in the woods after that, I’d get: “Going to look for some tit-mice?”

This embarrassed me. I knew what tits were, the kind guys talked about in schoolyards. The kind I really wanted to see. But that wasn’t a family subject.

I guess my dad’s amusement over my knowledge of bird names contributed to my being a little defensive about bird watching.

This might be why I like to point out that it’s a two-fisted sport.

In any case, I’m glad I could make my dad laugh, and wish I still could.


My dad had signed us up for a nature hike led by a bossy guy in a ranger outfit.

I was ten, and looking for arrowheads. But I noticed an interesting bird in the underbrush.

It flew to a tall tree ahead of us on the trail. There was white on its back, a red dot on its head. And gold flashes under its wings.

I thought I knew what it was. We’d been studying birds in school that year.

I said to our guide, “What bird has yellow wings?”

This annoyed him. I was a punk looking for arrowheads. He sighed, “No bird.” And resumed lecturing to the adults.

I said, “What if it’s under the wings.”

“Son, no bird has yellow under the wings.”

Under my breath, I said to my dad, “Flicker.”

My dad, who would later tease me for life because I once identified a titmouse, looked at me, eyebrows raised.

He said, “What’d you call that guy?”

Eventually, we neared the tall tree. As the bird moved, yellow feathers under its wings became obvious.

Our guide noticed. He stopped the group and pointed, “Okay, everybody, up here we have something interesting…” As though he’d discovered it for us.

“Flicker,” I whispered to my dad again.

My dad gave me a look.

“Yellow-shafted,” I added.

3 Responses to “Two for Father’s Day.”

  1. Jeff says:

    Funny, but I have a similar story about bird names and fatherly laughter. My dad is very much like you…from my earliest memory he loves to go into the woods and spot birds. And he’s cool, not your typical image of a nerdy birdwatcher. He took me into the woods many times as a kid, and we’ve traipsed through the woods together as two men (though “two men traipsing together” doesn’t sound very two-fisted and I perhaps should have said “hiked” but I am not going to go back and edit what I wrote, because second-guessing and editing is not very two-fisted either)…anyway, despite this manly traipsing, I have yet to develop an interest in distinguishing a finch from a sparrow (though my 2-yr old daughter may have!) and like your father, I find my father’s knowledge and use of specific and often absurd-sounding bird names worthy of amusement. One time, on a tropical family vacation, we loaded up in a rented Jeep, and drove through a winding nature trail to enjoy the fauna and flora not common to our Midwest suburban woods. Of course, my teenage hormones weren’t interested in exotic ferns, or spotting a blue-footed booby (maybe a blue-bikini’d pair) and the overtly expressed boredom my brother and I felt had ruined the mood for my dad, and created an uncomfortable silence in the car. Then suddenly off in the distance I do spot some sort of “bird,” who knows what, and shout with mock excitement “Look, Dad, a grouse, a grebe an egret!” He laughs. We all do. And with a lightened mood we enjoy the rest of the drive. Even though I’ve teased my dad about birds, I am grateful for those walks in the woods. They may not have made me into an amateur ornithologist but they certainly inspired my love of nature, my desire to observe the world more thoughtfully, and to intuit a deeper meaning in the everyday. So on this Father’s Day, I would like to say to my father, “Thanks, Dad. I love you. Let’s go traipsing in the woods again soon.”

  2. Bill says:


    Your dad’s cracking up right now.

  3. Marc D. says:

    June 16, 2012

    Loved your blog on you, your dad and bird watching. If my Dad were alive, I’d listen more attentively and with a more open mind to everything he said. I’d ask him all the many questions that occurred to me in the decades since he died, which I never thought to ask while he was living. Id’ thank him for all the wisdom he passed on to me; all that he did for me; and thank him for his loving, outgoing, patient, easy-going and forgiving nature. On Father’s Day I’ll have a drink with my family, including my son, a father, and raise a toast to all fathers, from the beginning of time, to the present, and to those of the future. Here’s to you, Dads of the world.