My father was good at making big scenes in restaurants. This was chiefly because he was hungry and the waitress or waiter was not moving fast enough. I dreaded these scenes as well and as an adult am incapable of challenging even the lousiest or most supercilious service.
What impresses me in hindsight is that none of his rages was ever fueled by drink. Whiskey only made him nicer. I’m not sure why he was always blowing his top. Self-knowledge was never one of his strong suits, still isn’t. He would claim as malicious fantasy much that I’m writing about him. Now we have words like denial and dysfunction. I find them amusing, given the household I grew up in. My mother and father probably think of themselves as model parents. In my experience, parents are always congratulating themselves for their excellence in child rearing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a friend of mine say, “You know, I’m not much into being a parent and I’m probably doing a rum job of it.”
My father is a nice man. That’s what almost anyone would say about him. Me too. Smart as well. The folks were always reading books. They thought I was maybe retarded because I watched TV so much. There wasn’t really TV when my older brother and sister did much of their growing up. I remember very well my father bringing the first TV home, in ’54 or ’55, and it was a source of endless fascination for me. Which, in part, is why they’re a little perplexed that I grew up to be a writer. My father wrote as a young man, for newspapers and magazines. He even had a humorous column in a men’s retail monthly. His style was a bit like S.J. Perelman. My father painted too, for about ten years. In the basement. First in the style of the fauves, like Derain, then more abstractly, somewhat in the manner of Kandinsky and Klee. When my brother died he stopped.
My father never quite forgave me for becoming a writer. It was a cultivated hobby, but nothing to give one’s life over to. Only the feckless, misfits and drunkards, write and paint as a career. He was clearly conflicted about all of that. When it was too late for me to change course, my parents hoped that I would take a university job. No one arouses my father’s contempt as much as university professors. He thinks they’re worthless, pompous clowns. He’s probably at least half right. When he sees me, my father still can’t help himself from volunteering, “Your mother and I always hoped some institution would take you in and look after you.” I think he means a university, but I’m not sure. He’s trying to be helpful, I suppose. Because he loves me. As I love him.
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