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A Man Called Dad : A trumpet-playing professor; a screenwriter with rules all his own; an eccentric actor whose silences can wither a man; a doctor forever chasing a dream; an ex-sailor who finally comes to his son's rescue . . . sort of. Five writers recall life with father. : The Coolest Dad Around


It is 1970. I am 14. My best friend, Julie Cohen, and I are talking about our latest heartthrob, James Taylor.

My father leans over.

"You know girls, I've heard that James Taylor is a heterosexual ."

We look at him in horror. Heterosexual? Oh no . We thought he liked girls.

"Oh my god," we wail. "How do you know?"

He just chuckles and walks away.

He may have a sick sense of humor, but at least he knows who James Taylor is. My dad is cool--the coolest dad around, in fact.

He comes by this coolness naturally, maybe because he is a college professor, and there are only two kinds of male college professors--babes or dweebs. My dad, Dick Abcarian, is a babe.

These days, he looks like a cross between Albert Einstein and Karl Marx, only cuter. I think it's the flowing white hair. (Which he cuts himself.)

For fun, he plays trumpet in a big band whose major gig is the monthly dance at a senior center in Culver City. But he can tell you that the most alliterative line in all of rock 'n' roll was sung by Crosby, Stills and Nash: Lacy lilting ladies losing love lamenting. He thinks the rock group Genesis wrote astonishingly poetic lyrics, and he can quote them just as readily as he can quote Shakespeare.

Recently, he discovered the World Wide Web and called to read me a line from a compilation of courtroom quotes that was circulating in cyberspace.

Attorney: Would you say, Miss, that you have an active sex life?

Witness: No, I just lie there.

I find his bawdiness endearing now. As a child, it horrified me.

In fact, when I was a child, I did not understand that my dad was cool. I thought he was weird. During my brief religious phase, I even turned to prayer. (I got the idea after taking communion with a friend at Lady of Lourdes in Northridge. I had no idea what it was.)

"Dear God," I would ask as I lay in bed listening to KRLA, "why can't my dad wear a suit to work like normal dads?"

My dad wore short-sleeved plaid shirts and unmemorable pants. There was one brief and terrifying period in the early '70s when he wore a Nehru collar or two, but I pin blame for the puka shells on my mom, who bought them as a Christmas present.

On final exam days at the college, as a joke, my father sometimes wore a light blue Windbreaker with "Let's Make a Deal" emblazoned on the back.

My dad still wears short-sleeved plaid shirts. But his favorite piece of clothing is a Heidi Wear T-shirt, signed by the Hollywood Madam herself.

Naturally, he is the envy of all his friends.

* Robin Abcarian is a Los Angeles Times columnist who never took her father up on his offer to take him to the "Pop Swap Shop" and trade him for a new model. But she was tempted.

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