Remembering Clif Garboden

The life and times of an alternative-media true believer
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  March 4, 2011

Clif Garboden, with daughter Molly and son Phil. Photo by Paul Trowbridge. 

As any reader of my father's work can imagine, he wasn't afraid of making enemies. One career highlight was Rush Limbaugh's radio rant against Dad's work in the liberal press. Following the publication of some of his more politically provocative articles, my parents faced frightening and abusive calls at the house. He once received a death threat from a mime.

But as far as I'm concerned, his number one enemy was about six inches tall, brown and furry, with large white teeth. Mr. Beaver was one of my childhood toys and my father couldn't stand him. Allow me to explain.

Every night when I was young, Dad would read to me. We read everything -- picture books like Caps for Sale (a particular favorite), poetry by Shel Silverstein and others, and one glorious winter, we worked our way through Little Women, one chapter per night.

After story time was over, we would sit on the living room couch and discuss. First off, who was the author? Had they written any of our other favorites? And then -- Did we like the book? What did we think of the characters? Why did the man selling caps have such a funny accent? (Apparently my father was trying to make him sound Italian -- I wasn't convinced).

To each of these reading sessions, I brought along one of my toys, who would often contribute to our conversations. There was the earnest black bear who liked everything, the blonde British doll who didn't approve of silly stories, the little red fox who only enjoyed books about other foxes -- and then, there was Mr. Beaver.

Mr. Beaver was rude. Mr. Beaver was brash. He was loud. He would interrupt. His eyesight was bad, so he would lean in too close to see the pictures, blocking my father's view of the text. He insisted on singing his theme song before and after every story.

At the end of any evening with Mr. Beaver, my father would bluster out of the living room and puff to my mother, "I hate that goddamned beaver!" I would trot after him, cradling the book, smiling contentedly.

Of course my father realized it was I, his quiet, patient daughter, who was making the beaver shout. It was my little hand that put Mr. Beaver in front of the book he was trying to read. I was even guilty of making up that theme song in the first place.

But my father wasn't simply humoring me — he was an active participant, as invested in the game as I was. Each of us knew the other was aware it was pretend (I was imaginative, not stupid), but that didn't stop us from carrying on.

I owe so much to those cozy evenings in my family's living room. Undeniably, my father passed down his life-long love of reading to me. Our chats lay the foundation for my college major in English literature, which led to my current career in journalism. And while Mr. Beaver rarely had anything useful to say in terms of literary analysis, the time spent with him and my father showed me something too. Uncharacteristically, Clif Garboden played the straight man in our routine. He was teaching me how to be funny. He was teaching me how to collaborate with others to achieve that valued goal. And ultimately, he was teaching me that every good writer and critic has enemies.

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