The old man was a pain in the ass. You couldn’t get away with anything. I always wanted the dad that would cry, “Not my son!” when you got into trouble. I got the, “That sounds like something he would do,” dad. He was too smart. But he is the reason I’m in NYC today. When I was a kid, he and mom would bring me to NYC. I loved it and decided one day that I would live here.
In 1970, when I was 13 years old, I went away to camp in upstate New York. I made friends with a chubby little nerdy, Jewish kid from NYC who was always picked on. I always hated those who preyed on the different and the weak. It was anathema to me. Being different myself, in a different way, I was very aware of the damage it can cause. I would tell the bullies to back off when they would pick on him.
Anyway, I liked him and he invited me to come to NYC and hang around and do stuff. Now here comes one of the reasons, my old man was great. He allowed me to get on a bus alone in Pennsylvania and take the two-hour bus ride to New York to meet this kid. He figured, yeah it’s dangerous, it was 1970, but since this kid was an NYC kid, he knew his stuff. He also trusted me.
We hit all the arcades in Times Square, ate at Tad’s and had a grand old-time. I never did make it to the Village, but that was fine. I was on my own in NYC.
The sad thing is that I can’t remember that kid’s name. He gave me a yarmulke from his bar mitzvah and I know it’s somewhere.
Then, in 1971, I failed to get tickets to the Mothers at the Fillmore in June. I did manage to get tix to Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Ten Years After at Gaelic Park in June. He wanted to come. Oh, man, my dad wanted to come to the show? Yikes. How embarrassing.
So, he drives my two friends and I into NYC and we spend the night at the Times Square Hotel. Seedy, but acceptable.
We get to Gaelic Park and I’m bummed since there is so much pot and I can’t smoke any.
It had rained earlier in the day and the ground was still damp. My dad, took off his wingtip shoes and sat on them to avoid getting wet. The other kids around us were curious as to why that old man was there. One guy asked if he was reviewing it for The Times.
.He explained he brought his kid and friends to the show. They thought that was the coolest thing. He became the most popular guy. One stoned kid said, “I know you’re probably not into grass, but we have beer. You want a beer?” He declined, but the kid gave him one anyway, just in case; a Rheingold which we surreptitiously drank behind his back. Yeah, not so much. He knew.
One totally stoned guy tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You know, man, you’re the first person I’ve ever seen sitting on a pair of wingtip shoes.”
It was at that show that I realized how cool my square dad was. He wanted to experience the culture his kid was into. He wasn’t into it, he just wanted to know. That show changed his mind about the so-called counterculture. He realized that they were just kids doing their thing.
It also wised him up about me. He kept a tight rein on me throughout my teens. I was not allowed out during the school week and only until 11 on weekends. We fought. If I wasn’t home ten minutes after curfew, he came looking for me. And in a small town that was easy.
There’s more I can say positively about the old man. But they’re just isn’t the space. Like the time he found my quarter pound of pot.
Later in 1971 year he took me to see Zappa at Carnegie Hall, on a school night.
My father was a great guy. I didn’t realize it at the time. He wasn’t hip and he wasn’t square. He was open.
In my twenties I went home and asked him about how I might not be living up to his expectations. He told me that financial success wasn’t the be all and end all. It was the fact that I had my own life and friends and I was making it, albeit barely, in a city like New York.
Side note: When I was broke and didn’t have an apartment in the late 1990s, I would go home fairly often. I never went home. Only at Christmas. The old man was no dope. While my mom was glad to have me coming home more often, he was wise to the scam.
We were sitting alone in the kitchen one day, talking, when he said to me, “You don’t have a place to live, do you?” I denied it and he said, “C’mon. You never come home. You hate it.” I had to come clean.
He then told me that I was welcome anytime, but to not tell my mom.
When I visited him in the hospital in his final days, his doctor asked me to issue a DNR order. I thought it should be my mom’s call. He said no, my dad said he wanted me to make the decision when it came time.
My old man gave the power to kill him. He wanted me to make that decision. It was an easy decision to make. All the decades of fighting meant nothing at that point. If there was any doubt that my father loved and respected me, that was it. He trusted me to do the right thing; the thing he wanted and knew I would do.
Of course I miss him, but what I miss most is that he always kept me honest. He was the Republican Contrarian. He was conservative, but didn’t buy into the dogma. He said you have to think for yourself and not blindly follow. He taught to question the validity of my beliefs.
He was a republican, politically. But he was more of a human being. He was actually more open than many of my lefty compatriots, despite the arguments.
One time when we were in a knock down drag out about some political issue, my mom weighed in and asked us not to hate each other. The old man looked and her and said, “We’re just having a discussion.”