Let me tell you about my old man. Despite having no father of his own, he made damn sure to be the best father he could to me.
Hoofer was a crazy bastard. He was a Dorchester native, a real “shorts in the winter” type of guy. Sarcastic, ornery, and perhaps in his later years, eccentric, my Dad had a way with people. If you “got it” you loved him. If you didn’t? God help ya. He’d drop everything to save a lost dog, make unfiltered small talk with complete strangers, and casually scoff at the local cops (“I had half of ’em in school, I bet they still can’t read!” he’d joke). He once formed a roadblock with his Buick to let a family of turtles cross the street. People beeped and beeped and my Dad sat comfortably in the car, waving his middle finger at them until the turtles made it across. This was when I learned what “fuck you” meant. This was Jack Ryan, ‘the big guy with the little dog.” A master of both deflection and self-deprecation, he was quick to redirect a compliment and even quicker to take a poke at himself. He taught high school English, and in the early 90’s he would wear an oversized coat to sneak our dog “Abby (Hoffman)” into class for company. When teaching, he would push the books prescribed by the curriculum, but if he wasn’t reaching certain kids, he’d have them read “The Amityville Horror” instead. He saw potential in everyone. One student was into photography, so he let her skip his class and hang out in the dark room instead (today she’s in NYC thriving with her own business in the field). Legend has it that when he taught summer school, he’d host Nintendo tourneys and buy everyone Happy Meals, thus making him pretty popular with the inmates. Despite these shenanigans, he connected with all of his classes, as evidenced by the turnout at the wake. Former students of his from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s were on hand and they all shared fantastic “Mr. Ryan” stories with me. His favorite novel, The Catcher in the Rye, was left on his coffin by one girl, and the note inside was extremely touching. She also highlighted the often misspelled word “cemetery” in the book, a word he’d famously love to catch people with, even until days before he passed when he was quizzing his grandson Xavier with it.
Instead of asking how I was, most people around town (including my own friends) would start with “How’s your Dad?” This was a trendy question to ask because chances are a pretty entertaining answer would follow. He was smarter, cooler, funnier, edgier, and more courageous than I could ever hope to be. He didn’t take shit from anybody. Not a soul. Well, except his son. In the late 80’s we had a paper route together on Sunday mornings and we’d leave at 5am. The deal was, he’d drive door-to-door and I would get out and run the paper up. I was fuming mad that I had to be up this early to go on this route, so most of the time I would approach the house, wind up like a young Nolan Ryan, and GUN the paper off of the metal part of the screen doors. House after house you’d hear “wham!” and I’d stomp back to the car. Upon return my Dad would give me his patented death stare as if I really effed up. His head would then shake in disapproval until ultimately giving way to a canyon-wide smile (I think he secretly loved disturbing this neighborhood, a nicer one than ours).
My Dad didn’t give me money, he gave me his time instead. When I was a high-strung 5 year old, he’d put me to bed by drawing letters on my back, making me guess them until I drifted off. When I was 8, he’d record me narrating a Spider-Man book and bring me to the Million Year Picnic in Cambridge to get comics (I could idolize Spidey and X-Men infinitely, as long as I would R-E-A-D the issues). At 10, we’d face off with elastics and shoot “M.U.S.C.L.E. men” toys off of makeshift castles of stacked books (I recreated this memory with my son in a Czarface video). When I was 12, he drove me to Baltimore to see my favorite tag team “The Road Warriors” (the man wasn't too big on wrestling, but for me, he made the trip). At 13, he’d show me how to “shoot like Larry” and rebound like Xavier McDaniel (“if you aren’t fouling you aren’t playing hard enough!” he’d shout). It was around this time that we’d go head to head in countless RBI Baseball games on the Nintendo. He’d use Detroit, and every time his Darrell Evans hit a dinger, he’d antagonize me, singing “how does Dinger dooo it?” (a jingle of a local car dealership). This routine made my blood boil and I would slam down my controller, abandon my Red Sox, and stomp out of the room. We’d laugh and laugh about it later. When I played organized hoops, he’d coach the teams. When it turned out I stunk, he sharpened my game by feeding me to the wolves on various ball courts in Boston. Between defeats at the Fens, we’d head up the street to Christy’s and get an ice cold Gatorade (Michael Jordan drinks these). I can almost remember every step we took to get there, what a treat. On the court I was eaten alive often, but Reggie Lewis was watching one of the those times, and my Dad made sure I met him. These pick-up games were intended to mold me into the next Kevin McHale, but the Public Enemy records blasting out of the court-side boom-boxes had different plans for me. My Dad would often get my attention by quoting Stetsasonic and EPMD, but not as often as he’d quote my first love, Star Wars. Like his casual appreciation of hip-hop, he grew to like Star Wars because I loved it. My interests became his interests. He would refer to our little dog as Salacious Crumb and tell me “the Death Star plans are not in the main computer room” whenever he couldn’t find something. First Grade memories of him changing the “Bicycle Built for Two” lyrics to “Star Wars, Star Wars” will never be forgotten. As the first mate on an errand I didn’t want to run, I’d stubbornly plop onto the ripped vinyl seats of his old Buick and he’d look over at me and sing “There’s Walrus Man and Chewbaaaacca” and I’d laugh uncontrollably and shake the bad mood. All of this was for me until recently when he began delivering Lord Vader’s finest lines to his grandson, who was equally entertained. After he passed in 2016, I was cleaning up his apartment, using his computer, and I spotted a “Star Wars quotes” folder on his desktop. It was heartbreaking to see knowing that he was now gone.
Despite the odd career choice, and me reassuring him “I know what I do isn’t Shakespeare, but…” he was proud of me. He’d often email me my own interviews and songs, pointing out what he liked about them. He kept copies of our vinyl records next to master works by Mark Twain, Hunter S. Thompson, James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal. He once (ok maybe twice) interrupted a freestyle cypher of young kids rapping to make sure they knew who his son was. He taped every televised special on “hip-hop” available and would call me to tell me when it was airing. He’d often call me “Eso” lightheartedly and then lead into a story about being next to someone in traffic blasting rap: “big f***ing car, tinted windows, bass rattling…the guy looked like a rap guy, so I yelled ‘YO!’ (he’d wait to see the panic on my face) you ever hear of Esoteric? And guess what? I shit you not, the guy knew who you were! He didn’t believe I was your father!” These little vignettes made his day, and the upbeat manner in which he told them convinced me of it.
He was always there for me, whether in person or on the phone. I never heard his voicemail greeting because he never missed my call. I missed some of his though, and every time he began a message he’d be recovering from a hearty laugh at my greeting (a recording of a then 3 year old Xavier’s attempt at “you’ve reached Esoteric, leave a message”). It never got old to him. He’d mimic his grandson’s voice and then tell me how great he is and how good we’ve got it. The sincerity in his voice was bulletproof. He would go on about his grandkids, my wife Andrea, and our dog Logan. He knew we weren't rich, but to him, I “made it.” The man was just truly happy for us as a family. I could hear him wrestle with different ways to articulate that point, but it would usually spin into some hip-hop slang that he couldn’t resist using. The message wouldn’t end until his dog Teddie’s barking took center-stage and he had to put the phone down. Soon he’d master the art of texting, and text me often, with every single werd intenshinully misspelt. He got a big kick out of that. He absolutely loved anything to do with wordplay. Oh, and he’d crush you in Jeopardy.
He was immortal, I thought. The guy was never going to die, right? Surely we’d hit another Celtics game, or watch the Patriots together like we had on those frigid Sundays. Of course we’d always have another chance to grab food and sit by the water at Independence Park right? It was there that he’d give up the details of his military stint with Sandy Koufax and the stories behind his Dorchester High hoops games on the Garden’s parquet. I would get to hear these again, right? No. I was wrong. I was naive. The man was supposed to be immortal. My hero, my Dad. Gone. I received an email from him one hour before he collapsed. 6:55am was the time and the email read “VOLUME UP” with a link to the hilarious country song “I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” Sharing this song was a typical self-depricating move of his to get a laugh. Hours later I was viewing him in the emergency room, shirtless with several doctors standing over him. Cardiac arrest. He had a sick sense of humor, so I’d like to think he found this tragic chain of events funny, in a dark comedy sort of way. I think I can see you laughing now, Dad.
Strangers compliment me on my wordplay in our music, well they can thank my Dad for that. Others say I joke around too much and that’s just my Dad.. People say I am fanatical about dogs, well you can blame my Dad for that, too. Some say nice things about me as a father. Again, all I’m trying to do is be like my Dad. If I can leave the impression on Xavier and Allie that my Dad has left on me, then I think I’ve done my job. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you, I miss you, and “May the Force Be with You.”
- Seamus / Eso @czarface_eso