My father was not uproariously funny. He had a dry but ever-active sense of humor. He and my mother created a home where joy, fun, and brightness abounded.
Humor wasn't so much about telling jokes as it was about being able to get someone you love to crack up laughing. So turns of phrase and funny little spontaneous movements, sounds, or images ruled the day. This fostered in my sisters and me a sense of humor that is both verbal and visual. It is loving - not embarrassing or hurtful. It is inclusive: Everyone laughs together.
One of my favorite childhood memories is of making faces with Dad. He and I would stand in front of the living room mirror. The challenge was: "What can you do with your face?"
We went well beyond simply looking like fish. "Look like you have a mouth full of worms." "Look like a harvesting machine cutting corn." "Do a judge face." This last face my dad could always do better than I could. He would get quite serious and then pontificate through wobbling jowls. I was impressed since I had no jowls to wobble!
In later years he became a judge. When I saw him in the courtroom, I loved the way his cogent directives ended any questionable carryings-on by lawyers or witnesses. He showed respect for everyone in his court, but he brooked no abuse of the legal system, and he did this with his dry and gentle humor.
Back at the mirror, I could always get him to laugh (or be disgusted) by manipulating my eyes in ways he'd never attempt. He could not wink, but his efforts to do so yielded amazing contortions of every other part of his face. And he used his prominent nose to good effect.
My specialty was mouse mustaches. I could isolate and constrict the area between my upper lip and nose, creating multiple wrinkles. Yes, my dad encouraged and appreciated my facial wrinkles. (That may be part of the reason that I can look in the mirror with a sense of anticipation.)
Wow! Look what I can do with these features now! I can feel Dad's gentle, encouraging laughter, because I know he loved me and my face.
I'm happy to say that my judge face is getting almost as good as his - and I can still do mouse mustaches. I consider one of my dad's greatest gifts to be this active, uplifting sense of humor. It's an everyday outlook that enables me to find amusement when life seems mundane; to dissipate fear, anger, and hurt; and to connect with people in ways that say, "I want to brighten your day!"
The moments I enjoyed most as a kid were moments when I got my dad to laugh.