On Father’s Day
I don’t have many pictures of my father. It’s not because he wasn’t around. My father was a fixture in the house where I grew up — he was always around: watching TV in the den, fixing plates of snacks in the kitchen, shooting pool in the basement. He’d come upstairs every night at bedtime when my sister and I were young, to say good night and turn off all the lights, except for the hall light, which when I was a boy I preferred left on, with my bedroom door open just a bit.
When I was growing up my dad wasn’t one of those fathers who occasionally dropped in from the golf course to say hi. He knew my teachers’names, who my friends were, who their parents were, too. He coached all of my soccer teams after he realized it was the only way I would get any playing time. He attended every school play, concert, tournament or event of which I was a part. And when there was nothing going on he’d load us kids in the car — first a chocolatebrown Chevy Impala, then later on to big Cadillacs — and hit the road to a museum, a battlefield, a fair, a movie theater.
True story: When I was 4 years old, my father took me to see Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ Western comedy that earned an R rating because of its foul language, sexual situations and racial themes.
It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater.
Here’s a picture of him, nestled among my Facebook shots. It’s from 1979, the day of my first communion at St. Joseph’s in Garden City, NY, the place I grew up. I’m front and center, in a brass-buttoned three-piece suit that looks as if it could withstand open flame.
I’m wearing a strap-on white tie. My communion tie. My shoes are horrible.
I’m flanked by my sisters: Ellen, a couple years older, impatient in a Dorothy Hamill-styled bob and collared dress made from a rugby shirt; Carolyn, a few years younger, in “Sesame Street” socks, squinting against the early-spring sun.
My mom’s got her hair styled in an almost exact replica of Kate Jackson, who played brainy agent Sabrina on “Charlie’s Angels.” She’s in a khaki pantsuit with wide lapels, a plaid vest and a butterfly-collar shirt.
Dad’s in the back. Blue blazer. Khakis. Maroon tie. Ask him to get dressed up today and he’ll likely don some version of this same uniform. He looks impatient, with a glare coming through his hornrims, and he’s likely just told whomever shot this picture — probably my grandmother —to hurry the hell up so we can get to goddamn church on time. He looks, actually, a little bit like I do today.
This was in front of the old house on Avalon Road, the “where” of my childhood. My father taught me to throw and catch a baseball in the backyard, showed me how to ride my bike at the Dog Park across the street, shot baskets with me in the driveway before I became a teenager and lost interest in those kinds of things.
And, for a time, in my father. It happens to all boys, I suppose, that period of life when we feel we must turn our backs on our fathers, on the things they taught us, the things they stood for. I am no different. Our estrangement lasted roughly the same period as my teenage years, and after I begrudgingly realized we were so much alike it would have been hypocritical to keep him out of my life.
The same thing will happen, I suppose, with my own boys, who become less convinced of my own infallibility with each passing day. Eventually they will excise me from their daily lives, have other plans when I want to be with them, roll their eyes when I try to give them advice.
I know the drill all too well. I have another picture of my father here on my Facebook trove — one which he may never actually see because it exists solely as a digital image, and my father feels about modern technology the same way Sam I Am feels about green eggs and ham, which is to say he’s not interested in consuming it, no way no how.
The photo was taken late last year, just after Christmas, when I was back in Garden City with my family to celebrate the holiday. We’re at my friend Nicky Lucchese’s restaurant, surrounded by friends and family. It’s the occasion of my very first book reading ever, and afterwards my wife gathered my parents and me together and took the shot. We’re huddled together there on the dining room floor, my mother again in a pantsuit, albeit a more modern variation, and me in my fancy author get-up. My dad looks different in this picture. He’s smiling. At ease. Like he’s got all the time in the world.