What is Family Pants?

Family Pants is a comic strip turned animated cartoon about Frank Mueller and his family.  Part goofy sitcom like I Love Lucy , but instead of Lucy angling for fame with a sneak appearance in Ricky’s night club, it’s Frank’s insatiable appetite to be self-sufficient which gets him in awkward situations.

Self sufficiency may be a characteristic more akin to the drama of Survivorman than the humor of The Honeymooners Ralph and his “get rich quick” characteristics.  But the two are alike as ego and stubbornness drive fools to failure.

Self-sufficiency is a trait I’ve found in myself through much soul searching and studying my father.  The best explanation of Family Pants’ Frank Mueller is the “pig fat soap” story about my dad.  The following story is somewhat true, it’s details exaggerated for humor and define a trait of my dad, me and exaggerated in Frank Mueller.

One afternoon my mother comes home with a grocery bag of soap; Dial for your hands, a Lava bar for filth, make up remover, Dove for the girl Redl’s and Zest for the men of the house, a couple of shampoos with a couple of conditioners for the hair, two more soaps for the laundry and a couple more for the dishes.

Upon inspecting the lush booty on the table, I complained she missed yet another “soap”, Noxema for my less than spectacular adolescent complexion.  My Mom quietly says she’ll get it next time, citing if I never put the item on the list, it would never make it in the grocery bag.

Now here enters my Dad, spying the mountain of “soap” on the table, the double-digit grocery bill and a son complaining his mother’s efforts were weak and lamenting on how impossible surviving the week will be without that one particular item.

My Dad erupts how I’m an unappreciative kid and leading by example, he tells a story about how in his youth he made soap out of pig grease, or “crease” as he pronounced in his broken English.

You may say he doesn’t sound much different than any other father, cursing unappreciative offspring and the re-telling of his harder youth.  But some back story on my Dad.  He grew up in post WWII Germany.  So when he tells of having nothing, he meant nothing!  He and his family ate whatever they grew or caught and lived meagerly without plumbing, carpeting, electricity or shoes.

Intrigued on the mention of pig fat soap, I stopped my complaining and wanted to know more.  Of course I’m visualizing simply pouring bacon grease directly onto your skin for that oh so fresh feeling.  In reality soap can be made from animal fats, but the recipe requires some refining and laborious “cooking” procedures.

But before my Dad could explain my Mom counters harshly, “You didn’t make soap from pig fat… get outta’ here!”  My sister enters laughing and cementing the imagery in my head of bathing in bacon bits.

Now begins the challenge.  In part to satisfy a curious son, but mostly to silence a doubting wife and instigating daughter, my Dad attempts to create pig fat soap.

Cut to the chase, the doorknobs are covered with grease, a hundred of dollars pots and pans are ruined, the holiday roast and all the bacon is burned up and my Dad’s skin is aglow in a rash caused by strange pig soap.

Sounds like a Family Pants episode?  You bet.  And suddenly the characters focus.

At first glance of this story, you may think my Dad is cheap, not wanting to spring for real soap.  But one thing about my Dad is that if given the money, he’d spend it all on his kids.  Growing up poor, he is not a tight spender if he runs into funds.

Perhaps my Dad is old fashioned, not wanting to use new-fangeled soap over soap made the old fashioned way.   But growing up in poverty made my Dad enjoy and welcome new inventions and the conveniences they bring.  He’d never want to go back to the old days again, especially for his kids.

Speaking of inventions, perhaps my Dad is some sort of crazy mad scientist, “inventing” his own soap.  While he is mechanically inclined, he lacks the inventor’s drive to either become rich and famous or change the world sharing his vision.  He is not an inventor.

Well maybe the guy is just plain stupid.  Lots of funny characters are simply that.  Btu my Dad is far from ignorant.  His brilliance may not come from formal education, his genius comes from learning “on the job”, forging a successful and respectful life and career with nothing but his hands and heart.  Call it God’s scholarship.

So my Dad is not cheap or old-fashioned.  Nor is he a crazy inventor or just plain stupid.  The true message in the pig fat soap story is being self-sufficient or self reliant.  Even if he got the recipe right, I doubt he’d save any money or the environment making home made soap over Johnson & Johnson’s factory brand.  It’s not about money or saving the environment.  It’s about depending on oneself and having the courage to make your own luck.  There it is again, stubbornness and ego.

I find myself the same way, only instead of complaining about a person’s dependency on soap, I find myself risking life and limb installing antennas and dishes the size of swimming pools on my roof to free myself from the shackles of the cable company.  Oooo, how I loath the cable company.

And so Frank is a little of Lucy Mcgillicuddy, Ralph Kramden, a little of me and a little of my Dad.  Frank is a Survivor-Dad!

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