My Father’s Favorite Joke


My father died suddenly and unexpectedly on Christmas Day, 2015, a week shy of his 89th birthday. I am blessed with a lifetime of remembrances of this amazing man: he was a gifted neuroscientist, prolific author of 6 books and over 30 peer-reviewed articles, father and step-father of 11-kids that he adored, veteran of the Pacific Theater in WWII, and a lively, mirthful fellow who gave me many gifts that make me who I am today. This is one of my favorite stories:

It was a steamy mid-summer afternoon in 1969 or 1970 – I can’t remember which. The air was full of the scent of freshly cut grass mixing with the perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke that hung in my folks’ kitchen. My high school pal, Billy Pearl, had just arrived to rescue me from terminal boredom (that usually meant 4 of us gathering in Billy’s basement to play bridge, listen to Jimi Hendrix, and smoke cigarettes) and I was organizing my escape.

My father spied Billy and made a bee-line towards him, shimmering with excitement all the way. My Dad wasn’t a big man but he had a way of leaning in that made him larger than he was and, when he descended on Billy, I could see Billy leaning back in anticipation.

My father was quivering with glee at this point and, with a conspiratorial glance in both directions meant, no doubt, to ensure that no women’s sensibilities were in jeopardy, clamped a hand on Billy’s shoulder and said “Billy, do you know…,” and, at this, he began laughing in earnest.

Now, Billy was the eldest son of the local independent insurance agent and had been raised to be exceedingly polite to his elders so he stammered out “No, Dr. Crowne,” at which point my father – now nearly bent over with laughter and with tears streaming down his cheeks – delivered the punchline.

Billy politely chuckled and, while my father was now incapacitated with laughter, excused himself to use the bathroom just off the kitchen. No sooner had the latch snicked into place than Billy burst into hysterical laughter at my father’s amusement with this terrible joke. My father, upon hearing Billy laughing, bounded over to the bathroom door and, believing that Billy had just gotten the joke, began laughing again in earnest.

So, the scene is Billy inside the bathroom doubled over laughing at my father while my father is gasping on the other side of the door at Billy’s obvious appreciation of his humor. It was a perpetual motion machine of laughter and they’d no doubt both still be there had Billy not sagely interrupted the moment by flushing the unused toilet.

And so the joke that amused my father so was offered like this: “Billy, why do mice have such small balls?” And the answer was “Because not many of them know how to dance!”

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