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Here's to You, Dad!

My father and I were oil and vinegar.

"When he says black, you say white," said my mother, a complaint oft repeated over decades.



My relationship with him was a battlefield. I drove him crazy during my teens, smashing up the car several times, running amok with friends, getting in trouble left and right at home, in school, at friends'. I was constantly grounded which meant that I had to sit in my bedroom instead of going out and cavorting with my friends, smoking pot, smashing up the car repeatedly and making out with boys.

Yet, they trusted me enough to leave me alone on weekends during June from the age of sixteen to graduation when my participation in marching band required I attend Saturday football games. My parents stated, "Why should we suffer? Screw this, it's broiling out. We're going upstate to the family compound!" They packed up the car with my siblings and two of the three dogs, leaving me one for protection, and took off, not before imparting a stern warning, "Don't burn the house down."

Guess what I did while they were gone? Yep - Par-TY! Of course they knew. Instead, they turned a blind eye. Only because I'm a neat freak. When they returned from their trips greeted with an immaculate house, freshly cut lawn, clean sheets, towels and clothing, they were pacified. I had to make the house presentable to my friends!

What drove my parents insane was the time when I got suspended from school. My best friend, Donna O, took photos of me, some clothed, some naked and developed them in the art department. She got off scot free. I got the hit instead. It was an unfair suspension and I took it like a man.

"You did WHAT!" shrieked my father. "What's wrong with you? You're grounded!"

I loved those grounded times because I was alone at last in the bedroom, a room I had to share with my slob of a kid sister. And in that quiet time I read. Jane Eyre, Jane Austin, Jack Keroac, Gunther Grass, Trevanian, Philip K. Dick. Serenaded by my parents arguing.

"Art, that's not much of a punishment. She's reading in there, for Chrissake! This is something she enjoys!"

"What do you want me to do? I took away her albums, but she doesn't care. I forbade her the phone, she doesn't care. I took away the car, but all her friends have cars and those idiots let her drive! She's on honor roll, she's in that French lycée, she has a job..." he spluttered, "How can I punish her?"

"I have an idea," said my mother. "Let's allow her to go to school in France this summer. Perhaps that experience will bring her down a few notches."

My father screamed like a stuck pig. "You want to start a world war?"

I took all the money I saved from working as a waitress in Howard Johnson's for a year as well as working at a cashier at Daitch Shopwell and enrolled in a summer semester at l'Universite de Poitiers en La Rochelle. It was the best time of my life. Far away from my family, my community, my friends, I finally relaxed. For I found they drove me nuts; I needed stimulation, something I never got in school. Even so, I continued to be wild in France: I cavorted, drank and ran around with guys, yet I learned so much and met so many kinds of people.

When I returned from France, even my father admitted that going overseas was the best remedy.

It didn't change the nature of our stormy relationship.

Over the years, my father screamed like a stuck pig when I informed him of major decisions in my life. Right after I graduated from college, I got a crummy secretary job in a small company and moved into the City.

"Just get a teaching job and live at home until you save up enough money to buy a house when you get married," instructed my father.

"Who are you talking to?" I asked him, "do you even know your daughter?" His vision of my life sounded like a nightmare.

It took him over a decade to acclimate to my lifestyle, all the while lamenting about my decisions.

My mother sat me down when I was in my late twenties. "Your father wants a grandchild."

"Oh, that's easy enough to do. Although I can't help him out with the son-in-law part."

They left me alone in that regard. Yet, when I told my father during the 1989 depression that I quit my job, a very high-paying job, to pursue acting, that almost killed him off.

"How can you quit a job during a depression?"

"Would there be a better time?" I responded. "Anyhow, I'm starting a consulting practice while I'm in acting school."

"A CONSULTING PRACTICE IN A DEPRESSED ECONOMY?"

I made more money in those 9 1/2 years working a mere few months a year than I did as a full-time employee. Appeased a few years' later after watching me on a national TV ad and, at the same time, landing a giant consulting contract with a top notch financial firm, my father looked at me differently.

He came to terms that the traditional role of wife and mother wasn't in the cards for me. And that's when our relationship flourished. Until four years later when he died of a heart attack in front of my mother.

Several months after dad's funeral, my mother and I visited his best friend, Vinnie. I've known Vinnie my entire life, yet, suddenly he couldn't meet my eyes and kept excusing himself from interacting with me. Hurt, I told my mother, "I don't feel welcome here. Let's go."

We got up and headed out until Vinnie shouted, "I gotta talk to you."

He ran up to me. "I'm sorry," his voice faltered, "I can't deal. Every word you utter reminds me of your father. I miss him so much." With that, he turned around and walked away, wiping tears from his eyes.

Getting into the car with my mother, I turned to her and asked, "I sound like dad?"

"You didn't know that? You're as wild and crazy as he was. Why do you think he got so upset with you?"

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This is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.










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