For My Dad, Who Never Killed Me

This is a post I wrote for my father, The Jeff Nelson, *who loves me despite this blog.


My dad tells this charming story about the time he found the Jeff Nelsons of America. The story became charming sometime around 1993 when I realized that in addition to going by Dad, Daddy, Daddio, (whiny voice) Duh-aaaaad, and The Tennessee Wooden Spoon Spanking Machine, my father also- for some reason or another- went by Jeff Nelson. As I child with more imagination than bones, I latched to this tale and have spent much time since its first telling convincing myself of its wonderous magnanimity.

I pictured hundreds of Jeff Nelsons lounging in sufficiently manly leather chairs. One Jeff Nelson passes another Jeff Nelson a thrillingly illegal Cuban while a third or fourth or eighth Jeff Nelson lights another Jeff Nelson’s cigar. The Jeff Nelson who organized the event would kick himself for ordering so many sticky name tags as a room full of  Hello! My Name Is: JEFF NELSON badges was hardly worth the money. A particularly hilarious Jeff Nelson would jump and jokingly exclaim “Ouch!Jeff Nelson, why’d you kick me?”. Every Jeff Nelson would look the same: my father’s dark hair, the dent of his chin , a sparkling, happy set of eyes, that boldly joyous smile. They would marvel at one another’s bald spots, and ask how that godforsaken bare patch came to be. “The darn wife pulled it right outta my head when she was in labor,” one Jeff Nelson would huff. Inquiring Jeff Nelsons would share an all-too-knowing look, shyly smoothing a hand over their marks from women scorned and pushing. The Jeff Nelson of America Convention would loosen up as spirits flowed. Somewhere after the first hour the games would begin:

Jeff Nelson Staring Contest: Look yourself your competitor in his Jeff Nelson-y eyes. After a few rounds of perfectly synced blinks and twelve Jeff Nelson duos locked in a tie with Jeff Nelson, Jeff Nelson announced it was time to declare a victor. That victor was Jeff Nelson.

99 Human Jeff Nelsons On A Wall: Take one down and pass it around, 98 Human Jeff Nelsons on a wall. By the 97th Jeff Nelson, Jeff Nelsons decided, all lugging around identical weights, that surely this game would result in a few Jeff Nelsons throwing their backs out.

Truth Or Dare: Having such a solid success rate at slumber parties the world over, the Jeff Nelsons were quite disappointed with the sharing game upon discovering that all Jeff Nelsons held the same secrets and would, quite predictably, all jump at the dare to streak through the neighbor’s yard.

At the end of the night, Jeff Nelson would bid his fellow partygoers goodnight. The buzz of a sea of zippers would be heard miles away. It’s just Jeff Nelsons zipping their jackets in unison. They’d promise to get together soon. It would be easy to keep in touch, of course, because all Jeff Nelsons carry a heavy, book-sized c”totally new and high-tech” cellular phone. And wouldn’t you know it? All Jeff Nelsons answer to the very same number.

What a sight to behold! My six-year-old self marvelled in the sight. Hundreds of Jeff Nelsons pull from the parking lot in hundreds of maroon Buick LeSabres. Hundreds of cracked right headlights cast light into darkness. A dazzling display of Jeff Nelsons’ brightness.

Pretty soon, the most mundane of daily tasks could be made more spectacular by adding a whole gaggle of Jeff Nelsons. As my dad poured Cheerios into my yellow, sunshine bowl, I was suddenly tickled with the vision of twelve Jeff Nelsons making me breakfast. Would one pour the coffee for another? Would Jeff Nelson #4 lick his hand and slick it down the back of my dad’s head to squash that wildfire of bed head? And most importantly, would I get twelve goodbye hugs before the bus stop? Would I get twelve times the special bedtime stories invented just for me?  Twelve times the adoring nicknames like Chicky Tori Loo? Could I possibly be the luckiest Tori Nelson in the world, with an infinite supply of a great dad’s greatness?Sometimes I’d startle from those daydreams clenching my chest. The idea of multiplying my father was so magical it was a happy heart attack.

I was supposed to be born a twin. I wasn’t. I grew up, entertaining the idea of a world of Tori Nelsons from time to time. Perhaps it was hereditary, I would think. Just maybe, like my Jeff Nelson in a room of Jeff Nelsons, I was meant to meet myself. Somewhere in childhood the idea of sharing a name became synonymous with doppelgänger. There were a million of me, and one day I would slap on a Hello! My Name Is: TORI NELSON sticker and laugh with another Tori Nelson at the irony of it all. Her nose would scrunch mid-giggle and I’d worry for a moment if I cackled that loudly. The answer would be yes, of course, because she is me.

Our friendly mailman stopped by with the usual the other day: bills, coupons, a note from a friend. “You’re Tori Nelson?,” he asks, nodding towards the envelope. “Just like the boxer. That’s cool,” he drives off not knowing what crazy, lifelong spark he has ignited. I throw a toddler on my back, informing my son on the speedy jog to the house that playtime will have to wait. “There are more me! More me! More me!,” I frantically explain. He laughs and says a mangled version of the word “banana”. For once we are both making the same amount of sense.

I picture hundreds of Tori Nelsons lounging pool side. Every good Tori Nelson knows that cellulite is best when covered, so we parade around in excessively baggy swim skirts and baggier t-shirts with quirky allusions to our Tori-Nelson-ness: “Half-Nelson, Full-Nelson, Any Nelson Will Do”. We laugh at our fashionable sense of humor. Tori Nelson cuts another Tori Nelson a slice of cake while a third and fourth and eighth Tori Nelson turn to hand me a glass of milk. I comment on Tori Nelson’s  pretty smile. We both cringe, the common look of a Tori Nelson uncomfortable with compliments. After a few more slices of cake, the Tori Nelsons loosen up and the games begin:

Jokes: “How many Tori Nelsons does it take to screw in a lightbulb?,” one Tori Nelson would smirk. The buzz would be heard from miles away as hundreds of Tori Nelsons rush to stick their fingers in the closest light socket.

Sing-Songing: One little, two little, three little Tori Nelsons. Four little, five little, six little Tori Nelsons. Seven little, eight little, – this game is boring. Would any Tori Nelsons like to join me, Tori Nelson for a bit more cake?

Blog Off: Tori Nelsons hold a blog duel. There are no guns, as loud noises scare the Tori Nelsons. Instead, the Tori Nelsons write, furiously pecking blog entries into laptops. The first to get recognition by a commenter wins. One Tori Nelson throws victorious hands into the air, yelling “Blog Off. You just got served spell-checked!”. That Tori Nelson is disqualified as she bribed another Tori Nelson to leave the game-winning comment beneath her riveting post on public restrooms. That Tori Nelson is me.

Oh snap! It’s 8 o’clock: This one isn’t so much a game, but gets the Tori Nelsons’ attention all the same. Tori Nelsons, it’s been real, but it’s time for bed.

Tori Nelsons bid one another goodnight. They promise to call soon, but only mean this in the loosest and most insincere of ways. Tori Nelsons hate talking on the phone. Tori Nelsons, we don’t take calls. What a sight to behold! Hundreds of Tori Nelsons pull from the parking lot in hundreds of green SUVs. Hundreds of Tori Nelsons forget to turn on their headlights. Hundreds of green SUVs in the world’s most impressive hundred car collision involving identical vehicles with identical drivers. A dazzling display of Tori Nelson’s dangerous driving habits.

The click of a search engine shakes me from a daze. Clenching my belly, I realize the thought of socializing with myself gives me indigestion.  I wait for Google to show me myself, my world of me’s. TORI NELSON, I type and wait and pray. TORI NELSON, I learn, is not the me I was expecting. Perhaps I could jog more? Could I make myself philthy rich? Would I be able to tolerate misspelling simple words like filthy? Oh, mercy of mercies, would I have to change careers? I was just getting good at this Unprofessional Blogger thing. And, maybe the most pressing issue of all, how does one go about getting African-American?

      Under years of fantastical creativity there are truths. Beneath piles of storylines, twists and the ever exciting turns, there is this:
My father, Jeff Nelson, came into contact with a few other men by the same name when these like-monikered dudes were receiving misguided phone calls and mail for each other. These Jeff Nelsons talked and rejoiced, for a few minutes here and there. They delighted in the irony of themselves: different heights and weights and states, no one career or loss or love the same. This story, more simple and less charming than I’d once willed it to be, has what I think to be a pretty happy ending. I could get really flowery and literary and close with something like “Two Jeff Nelsons diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not meet them both, I counted my blessings for a dad who never  traveled” or “A Tori Nelson by any other name would smell as sweet”. But that’s ridiculous, you see, because my name is Tori Nelson. My smell is nothing short of sour. I’ll close this chapter of childhood reverie as plainly as a bunch of Jeff Nelsons swapping AARP cards:
My dad, if my findings are correct, is the only best Jeff Nelson I know.
And as for me, well, I don’t get punched in the face for a living. That ought to count for something.
*Alternate Title:
 “For My Dad, Who Got A Vasectomy 12 Minutes After My Birth”

12 thoughts on “For My Dad, Who Never Killed Me

  1. I swear, it makes total sense that a kid would think it strange their dad had a name other than “Daddy” or whatever. And I LOVE the title of this post. Happy Father’s Day to Jeff Nelson!

  2. Your alternate post title is funny, but I like the one you chose even better. I’m glad you don’t get punched in the face for a living…blogging is much safer 🙂

  3. Tori, I think this may have been the first post of yours I ever read. Or else my brain is malfunctioning because it’s after 2 on Friday and I need some CHOCOLATE and some WINE! STAT!

    Anyhoo, it’s a lovely tribute. Hope you and your husband (doesn’t that still have a nice ring to it?) and cutie-patootie have a great father’s day.

  4. That photo is intense.
    This was a pretty long blog (to me) but actually, a good read all the way through. This is a great post, & I wish your dad a happy father’s day for then. An excellent title. I pretty much envy such love & respect of a father, but I do think it is utterly beautiful.

  5. Well I loved the blog on many fronts! First of all it started the “Legend of Jeff Nelson” not unlike the “Legend of Bagger Vance”.

    Second it reinforced what as a father you always know, yet are never sure of; your children are paying attention. As one of my favorite writers, (John Prine) once wrote in song: “Little pictures have big ears, never stop to count the years,…”! As I reflect on my father and his father during this one day a year we are remembered, (except when the kids don’t have cell phone bill money), I can only hope that I positively evolved in fatherhood based upon the times.

    As a father the things you say and do are noticed, observed and learned, Even if not often mentioned at the time. With 5 children you fret over whether you have spent enough time with each of them, shared their personalities, engaged in their interest, and the list goes on … ! At the same time you have to provide, be an emotional support for your partner, and cut the grass.

    Thirdly (is that correct), You have shared how my funny story about the Jeff Nelson convention at Hard Rock Cafe, my bald spot (thanks for sharing), and how insensitive a postman can be.

    The list could continue on and on as how I have been blessed by you and each everyone of my children. Each is unique, each has differing interest and gifts, each is at a different point in life but getting where I always hoped they would be.

    Thank you to all of my children for continuing to try, sometimes failing, but getting better. Thank you for five remarkable grandchildren, that fulfill my desire that a little bit of “Nelson” is goes forward. Even the misguided ones who think there was ever a Tori Nelson Boxer worth remembering!

    Going back to the episode at Hard Rock, we booked a table for 7 or 8, we were sharing who was from Ohio, who was in the music business, who was an engineer. The manager at the time knew why we there. In the middle of swapping information at luch, there was a page over the intercom: “There is a phone call for Jeff Nelson at the front station”. In an instant we all stood up and turned towards the front station to a thunderous round of laughter and applause as the staff and half of the crowd were in on why we were meeting. I must admit that I felt more like John Smith than a Jeff Nelson at the time.

    That completes the legend and I hope my inspiration to any fathers or would be fathers about how important you can be!

    Your Dad,
    Jeff (the one and only) Nelson
    (You said to ramble on).

    1. Oh, Shannon. Just when I’d grasped the concept of a million Jeff Nelsons you have to throw the Jeffrey thing out there. It’s true. My brain just melted a little bit 🙂

Ramble on, little rambler...

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