I grew up watching a lot of Happy Days, an American sit-com that ran from 1974 to 1984. It’s probably on Foxtel right now.
The series spawned a great director (Ron Howard), and a series of other notable sit-coms (Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley), but its greatest contribution to pop culture was the character, Arthur Fonzarelli. It always confused me that the show wasn’t called “Fonzie” but I guess that would have required a new theme song.
Fonzie introduced a bunch of idioms into the vernacular: the prolonged ‘(h)eeeeyy’, the laconic ‘whoaa’, the frequent encouragement to ‘sit on it’, and the continued necessity to be cool.
Even today, I find myself saying “pipe down, Chachi” to my girls when I want them to just calm down; something Fonzie would regularly say to his younger cousin, Chachi.
There was a Boys Brigade leader at our church who continued to refer to me as ‘the Fonz’ for decades. I loved it.
Fonzie is also indirectly responsible for one of my rotating roster of ‘Five most embarrassing moments’.
It dates back to 1978 and Natasha Brewer’s 10th birthday party. The fact that I can remember her name, her address (Ullapool Road, Mount Pleasant) and the birthday should tell you one of two things: it’s an embarrassing memory, and I had a bit of a thing for ‘Tash’. Confession: I may have just looked her up on Facebook and to all you women out there, marriage offers you immunity from Facebook searches that will never be enjoyed your male counterparts.
Natasha had decided on a Happy Days theme for her 10th birthday party and that was great news for me. I dreamed of assuming the persona of the Fonz when I wasn’t fantasising about being Frida Lyngstad’s husband. In fact, I remember Mum had an electric curling set that was covered by a photo of a long-haired brunette. I’d written ‘Simon Lyngstad’ somewhere on the packaging – clearly I didn’t warrant my status sufficient for Frida to assume my surname in marriage.
A tangent. Willingly.
The Friday afternoon arrived for the party and I assembled my kit.
The Fonz kit looked much like the photo here.
I had blue jeans and the white t-shirt sorted, so the main ingredients were in place. I didn’t own a black leather jacket. The closest I had was a faux leather jacket that was a dry-retch shade of chocolate brown. It featured a series of four badly stitched pleats running down each side of the chest. You know how you pull your finger nail down soft plastic and it leaves a line of pucker marks? That had happened in several places on the sleeves of the jacket. I don’t remember that happening, so it came from an op-shop in the first place. I just googled something approaching its badness and quickly resolved that there would be nothing tainting the internet so severely. Anyway, all you need to know about this nasty brown jacket is this: I thought it was the business.
There weren’t black leather boots to complete my look – I had to make do with my crepe-soled fawn desert boots.
So, we were done. Almost.
When I presented myself to Mum, she decided that the white t-shirt looked like I was wearing underwear on the outside and thought I should be more circumspect. I was crushed, but I patched up my sadness and the integrity of the look with…a checked, press-studded western shirt. I must have really liked it because it cause it got a run in one of my school photos a year earlier.
As much as I am rocking this shirt, it’s fair to say that my ensemble had drifted substantially from the brief that I was targeting when I set out. Nevertheless, there was a party to go to and somewhere along the line, I hatched a plan.
Having arrived at the party it didn’t take long to discard the jacket; one glance at Mark Van Brakel in his black leather jacket and I realised: even a ten-year-old has standards. It left me in my blue jeans and white shirt, shrowded by a bad western shirt. The party was barely warming up when it came time to roll out my vision.
This much I remember with absolute clarity. I located myself at the centre of my group of friends and with all the intensity of Lleyton Hewitt eviscerating a ‘C’mon’, I ripped open my press-studded shirt, ceremoniously dumped it on the floor and proclaimed: “Now I am the ACTUAL Fonz”.
Why I’m only left with feelings of embarrassment on the recall rather than recalling the humiliation of friends is either a grace of friendship or the grace of amnesia.
These days, any shirt that has press studs of any sort is likely to be a trigger to a contentless story from 1978. It’s one of the hallmarks of embarrassment or failure, actually. The trigger can be exceptionally benign, but the memory will still be strong enough to recreate the original feeling. Perhaps worse if there’s no bigger story – but that’s another post.
The Fonz and the show left two more deposits that were probably of greater profit to me. I’ll leave the second (“Jumping the Shark”) for later, the first was enough.
Sometimes another’s greatest legacy is warning you away from the behaviours that they were seemingly incapable of escaping. The Fonz couldn’t say he was wrong. There was a thread through the show that he could never verbalise his wrong-ness, nor say he was sorry. It’s treated with levity in Happy Days and it made for a good gag, but an inability to confess that you were wrong when it comes to life off-screen? That’s got the potential to really stuff you up.
Refusing to admit that you were wrong will keep you from reconciliation. It will stop you from receiving forgiveness. It will divide friends and families. Ultimately, refusing to admit that you were wrong will steal your joy and your future.
It shouldn’t seem strange that discovering who we are is a product of facing reality. We are not always right. We are often wrong. The challenge is not to live a life that is as close to perfect as we can craft (for that’s a fruitless pursuit); the challenge is to repent, confess and seek forgiveness often.
So, for the benefit of any who read this, I’m truly sorry for my wardrobe decisions of 1978 and the intentional wardrobe malfunction that ensued. I was wrong. And I’m sorry for a bunch more stuff that’s far more important, too. I’m so grateful that Jesus goes first and pours out grace over my wrongness. That’s amazing.
Thanks for listening.