Dads and Daughts
Hold your fire! I confess herewith to bait and switch. This piece is not about NYC history, nor does it concern Yiddish. So go ahead and put me in the stocks. Down by City Hall near the old Bridewell jail site. What notoriety it would bring me ! What more could a blogger desire? I’d love it.
I concern myself here with fathers and daughters: what comes with later middle age, when they no longer need you in the way they did, nor as frequently. How girls and their dads grow up, mutatis mutandis, the necessary changes having been made.
Moments stand out in my memory like those rows of spitted chickens in a gas-fired rotisserie My 25-year old shopped with me in Wal-Mart some time back, several years after reaching puberty. Sanitary supplies were needed and she had little compunction at age 17 in asking for physical help when things were just out of reach.
I waited circumspectly at the end of a mammoth stack of shelves while T. scanned the category-killer array for her favorite pads. Spotting the desired item on the very top in mid-row, she thought twice about the safety of stepping up onto the lower level and reaching up. Help was called in. With a strong right hand and an outstretched arm I snagged the plastic sack carefully and we walked to the end of the aisle to head for the checkout. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an on-looker, though. A well-intentioned man of my age happened to be passing by. Mighty nice of you to help your wife out that way… Sparklers blazed in my brain. What else do you say besides uh, gee, Thanks?
Eight years later, T. and I sat down to lunch in Galil, an Israeli / Moroccan restaurant up on Lexington Avenue. Mind you I look every bit of my age of 53, albeit a G-d blessed healthy one so far. And T. is obviously in the midst of being a twenty-something. But the waitress looked at me cross-eyed when I tried to use my limited Hebrew to order off the menu. Wouldn’t even look me in the eye. Hmmmmm. I gave up instantly, writing it off to Israeli non-manners and my own stumbling. But something else was up.
Dad and daught scarfed down a fabulous spread while chatting animatedly back and forth about all manner of serious things. T. and I love each other like meat loves salt. The whole place warmed with our stacks of smiles. After an hour and a half and two glasses of wine, though, I had to go. To the men’s room. And it was almost time to leave. Up I got, and after making sure I was safe for the road, maneuvered past the closely-packed tables and chairs towards the washroom. T. stayed at the table.
When I returned her face was abloom. What’s up? I inquired innocently. The waitress asked if we were on a date… I grinned with pride, but carefully. Sure, such couplings of old and young are commonplace. But I said what I felt I should. Ewwwwwww! How could she SAY that ? I’m wearing a wedding ring! T. may be 25 years younger than I, but she’s four score and ten older in wisdom. Of course she thought that, Dad… We’re two people sitting here, obviously very much in love. It WAS a date.
My younger girl is 21, as shining as the sun. My mind’s mention of C.’s gorgeous name can bring tears to my eyes at the drop of a hat. I love her fiercely. We’ve been through some very hard times together. Hard for her. Hard for me. Hard for us to be together. We’ve found a way though, as the years have passed. A way to love each other and read the signs. Come close. Not now. Don’t go there. Try and think of ME.
C.’s college graduation is in a few weeks. Clothing is required, not the least of which is a suitable dress for a particular pre-commencement ceremony day. And I was invited to come along. What more could a father possibly want than to be asked to go dress-shopping with his daughter. Not for his wallet. For my approval, my thoughts, my subtle and careful recognition of her beauty, and yes, her pain shared with all girls of wanting to look just a little more beautiful than she knows how.
My wife was certainly the more important of C.’s two helpers the other day, but I was scarcely a supernumerary. In and out of the boutiques on Third Avenue we trod, me eating it up with a spoon and a fork. My mp3 player dosed my veins. I felt so attractive, not for my grunge-hip clothes and wild pony-tail. No: what make me feel so very much wanted was that I was there. I was welcome. My daughter wanted me along.
I had a ball on the Upper East, waltzing in and out of the stores, just watching them move. Watching shoppers’ eyes. Watching the cards be dealt on the table. Women shop for clothing differently than most men. They have and put so much at risk when they essay to dress themselves. There’s SO much more than raiment going on as their eyes scan the racks, so many things weighing in the balance. Desire and despair lurk barely beneath the surface of so many beautiful faces. Their men are a riot: significant others, husbands, boyfriends – anyone committed to a given gal generally comes along somewhat unwillingly. How many guys did I watch, tapping their palm pilots, sheepishly shifting from one foot to another, saying they’d wait in the nice fresh air of the traffic-clogged street, anxiously looking about the store, their virility draining from their toes like sand through an hourglass. No I really don’t have much of an opinion, babe. You know, like, what looks GOOD on you. I’ll be outside, just right outside. The game is on. I’ll catch the scores… Take your time, sweet. Yeah, right outside. It’s all I can do to keep my trap shut and not offer the unknowing a bit of advice. Wanna keep her, do you? Then show some fucking INTEREST!
The fathers in the tween dress departments sit there like stiffs. It’s all just too risky, saying anything, offering an opinion. One dasn’t tell her who she is. It came to me in a flash, what the next self-help book best seller can be. How to Skate on thin Ice without Falling In: The Dad’s Guide to Shmate-shopping with Daughters. Am I going to write it? Time will tell. One little thing says me I might get the nod. Graduation is just days away now, and C. sang me a song that beats Don Giovanni’s La Ci Darem hands down. I’d just shared with her my latest research finds for this blog. Her eyes shone with interest and love for a father she far prefers to the old big swingin’ you-know-what of a deal closing real estate lawyer who hung it up 6 years ago. It’s really neat, what you’ve done, Dad – it’s so exciting and I’m so happy for YOU. And ya know what? I’ve decided I LIKE your hair this way. I mean I don’t really LIKE it all long like that, but it’s YOU, and that’s nice. I’m adjusted to it. I can’t imagine you now any other way.