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Stepping up to the plates

A Sunday morning dishwashing ritual is passed from father to son.

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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On Sundays my father always wore that dull gray apron – the one with the race cars all over it. The ritual began after breakfast when Dad always announced: "Go ahead everyone. I'll take care of the dishes!" With that my mother disappeared into the folds of the Sunday paper. Off came the suit coat he had worn to church that morning. Up went the shirtsleeves. On went that apron. For the next hour Dad did the dishes, singing ballads like "I Had a Hat When I Came In" and "Who Put the Chow in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?"

I suppose it was strange for a boy's father to wear an apron – even one with race cars – but I never thought much of it until the day that Dad broke with tradition. It was the last Sunday in August. My father seemed in an expansive mood as we walked home from church together.

"Tommy," he said letting my name roll off his tongue. My mind raced ahead of his words: The birds and the bees? A new bike? A part-time job?

"There comes a time in every boy's life when he must take on responsibilities." This was important. I might even get to back the car out of the driveway.

"Responsibilities?" I asked.

"Yes. It's time you took a greater role in the household." Power tools? Boss my baby brother?

"Starting today, I want you to do the dishes on Sunday morning so your mother and I can work the crossword puzzle together."

"The dishes!?"

"Anything wrong with taking over the dishes, Son?"

I started to say something about a man's job or woman's work, but I knew immediately that my protests would fall on deaf ears.

I didn't taste a bit of breakfast that morning. Dad seemed in a jovial mood as he described an exceptional Yankee game seen through the eyes of Mel Allen on the radio last night.

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