Matthew Dicks’s Coming of Age


♪ I’m sitting
at the dining room table in my girlfriend’s parents’
home. I’m eating a cookie. My girlfriend, Lisa, is beside
me, and she’s talking, but I don’t hear
a word that she says. I’m staring at the front door. I’m waiting. I’m waiting for it to open
and for her father to come home. I’m a 19-year-old boy waiting
to meet my girlfriend’s father for the very first time. And I am terrified. And then the door opens,
and the man walks in. And I stand, and we meet
in the middle, and I reach my hand out
to shake his. And as his hand wraps over mine, I can feel the roughness
of his skin, I can feel the calluses, I can see the dirt and the grime
under his fingernails. It’s like shaking hands
with a Brillo pad. These are hands
that build and repair. This is a man
who can fix plumbing. He’s a guy who can
change his own oil. He’s the type of guy who can
take a tree down and then, like, put it back up
if necessary. (laughter) And as I’m shaking his hand, I realize I’m in a lot
of trouble. Because my hands
are nothing like his. I have the hands of a boy
who plays Ms. Pac-Man at the arcade on Friday nights. I have hands that roll
20-sided dice onto card tables in basements while playing
Dungeons and Dragons. These are hands
that play the flute. These are not hands
that build and repair, these are hands
that purchase and replace. (laughter) And as I shake his hand,
I know I’m in trouble, because I’ve been
in this situation before. Before I loved Lisa, I loved Laura,
my high school sweetheart. Laura’s father’s name was Butch, and he was the dictionary
definition of that word. I met him in his driveway
one day, next to his dump truck,
his bucket truck, and what I would later learn
was a stump grinder. Shaking Butch’s hand was
like putting your hand into a bag of broken glass. I asked Butch what he did
for a living, and he said,
“Whatever needs to be done.” (laughter) I am not a man who does
whatever needs to be done. I hire people to do
what needs to be done. And so as I’m shaking Lisa’s
father’s hand now, I know I’m in trouble. Because the reason Laura
and I aren’t together anymore is because even though
she loved me, she respected her father more than any woman I have ever met
in my life, and I was never going
to match what he was. And now I am worried
that I’m not going to match what this man is, either. And I’m already
starting out behind. Lisa’s father is a car guy, and six months ago, I owned a
1976 Chevy Malibu with a 357 V8. I don’t know what
those numbers mean, except I know that
car guys like those numbers. But I have sold that car, and I am now driving
a powder-blue Toyota Tercel. He looks at my car, and I swear he wants
to punch me in the face. He asks me where I live,
and I tell him, “In Attleborough,
with some of my friends,” but I can never take him
to my home, because it is the home of boys. The walls are plastered
with Bart Simpson posters. I’ve got two rabbits that
run around my house like cats, they use the litter box
and eat out of bowls. We got them because
we thought we would get girls, which we actually kind of do,
but he can’t see this. And we have 20 hamsters
that are spread out in cages all over the house, with tubes,
connecting all over. It’s like Steampunk
Hamsterville. Wherever you’re standing, there
is a hamster over your head. (laughter) I cannot bring this man
into this world of boys. And I am a McDonald’s manager. And I know it’s the hardest job
I will ever do in my life, but to him, I know,
I am flipping burgers. It is going to be a hard win in
this case, but I’ve got a plan. I’m going to win this guy over. He’s Portuguese, so I decide I’m going to learn everything
about Portugal, which in 1991
is a very big deal. Because to learn something
in ’91, you have to go to a brick
building during office hours. You have to slide open a card,
and find that card, and use it to find a book, and none of those books
have “Control-F.” You have to read
the whole damn book to find the one fact
that you are looking for to impress
your girlfriend’s father. It is a commitment
that I stick to. And then my rabbits
become a problem, because they’re chewing
through the cords. They’ve knocked out our
television and one of our lamps. My buddies and I decide we need
to get rid of the rabbits. And one day,
I’m at Lisa’s house, and I see that her father has
a hutch full of rabbits. And so I say, “I’ve got a
problem with my rabbits, sir. Would you like my rabbits?” And he says, “Yes.” And I swear, as I pass
my rabbits over to him, it’s like we get closer. Like, we don’t become friends,
but we become friendly. And then he invites me
to Thanksgiving dinner. And this is a big deal for me, because for the past two years,
I have not had a Thanksgiving. My Thanksgivings
are the Dallas Cowboys and Domino’s and despair. And so having an actual,
like, Thanksgiving, with real food and a family,
is a big deal for me. And so I go to their house, and
I sit at that dining room table. I sit right beside him. It’s like having
the father I never had. And there is turkey,
and there are breads, and there are stuffings,
and there are stews. And I feel like a member
of the family– I have done it. And then he turns to me,
and he says, “What do you think of my stew?” And I say, “I love it.” And he says, “You should. It’s your rabbit.” (groans and laughter) And I can’t believe it. I turn to Lisa to see
if she’s in on this, and she’s just
as appalled as I am. And so I turn back to this man,
and he is smiling. He thinks it’s funny that he
has just fed me my pet rabbit. We stare at each other for
what is probably three seconds, but feels like three years. There is silence at the table. And then I stand up, and
for the first time in my life, I speak to a man like a man. I tell him what a terrible thing
he has done, I swear at him
at his dining room table. I tell him exactly
what is in my heart, and then I turn,
and I leave his house. My hands are just as soft
as when I was 19 years old. I cannot change oil, I cannot
fix a single thing in my house, I cannot assemble a single one
of my children’s toys. But that was the moment
a 19-year-old boy stood up and became a 19-year-old man, and for the first time
in his life, he told another man
exactly how he felt. Thank you. (applause)