September 1, 2005
Singles - Guilt Trip for Two
My parents have given me so much; it's now time to start giving back to them. I'm referring to guilt in this case. Specifically, guilt about not living up to one's potential, about not keeping up with the Joneses' children, about not providing ammunition for bragging rights over Shabbat dinner with friends.
To be fair, my mother is pretty much innocent of the charges. And even my father, the guilty party, would never think of it as such. He merely believes there's always room for improvement, and always time to mention it. This isn't just about bringing home an A and being asked why it wasn't an A+, although that happened often enough. From about junior high onward, there was always another kid who was doing just a little bit more, and a little bit better, that he could throw at me -- for my own good, of course.
If poor, sweet Diane S. knew how many times her name was used (in vain) against me, she'd be surprised we were ever friends at all. Diane was taking more AP classes. She could sing her bat mitzvah haftorah portion like an angel. She went to Hebrew High School long after I opted out. She attended shul with her family regularly, without force or bribery.
Then the coup de grace: After college Diane married a nice Jewish lawyer, bought a house, brought forth three perfect children and they all have full dental.
I, meanwhile, moved clear across the country, got work in the film industry without benefits, dated outside the tribe and failed to propagate the species. In sum, I accomplished nothing that dad could talk about over herring at the men's club on Sundays.
For the first five or 10 years of my L.A. Diaspora, he would send me clippings from The New York Times wedding section of every Jew in the tri-state area who was around my age and had married another Jew. When I asked him what he was doing, he would say oh so innocently that he thought maybe I knew the people in question, and would want to hear about their nachas.
After much pleading, those mailings finally stopped, but the occasional phone calls continued. Oh, not from him -- from sons of friends of friends who had been given my number without my prior knowledge. At first I tried a couple of dates, to be polite to my father's friends' friends. They were so abysmal that I finally told my father that if he gave my digits out one more time, I would get an unlisted number and not give it to him.
My marital bliss has not been his sole preoccupation. He also suggested any number of professions to dissuade me from my creative pursuits. Not because they would make me happier, but because they were more secure. If I made a good point in an argument with him, he would encourage me to become a lawyer. If I was insightful about an emotional situation, he would recommend psychology (I recommended psychology to him, too, but he didn't get my drift); something, anything, that would translate to an advanced degree. And if I also happened to meet some nice Jewish boys in my classes, so much the better.
At this point he's given up, almost. In the last few years, working as a writer, I get to be the one to send clippings. He is wonderfully supportive, and tells me often how proud he is to see my name in print. He then goes on to ask why the publication in question won't put me on staff already.
I know he's not trying to be hurtful, but every time he asks why I don't have a real job, or bemoans my husbandless state, I feel like a failure for not living up to his expectations. We love each other very much, but his idea of success just isn't the same as mine.
But now, oh sweet vengeance, now it's my turn, if I want to take it. Because you see, I have not one, but two friends whose fathers have written books. Eve Saltman's dad wrote "The History and Politics of Voting Technology: In Quest of Integrity and Public Confidence," which will be published by Palgrave McMillan in a few months. Jenny Frankfurt's dad wrote "On Bull----," a New York Times best seller. He even got to go on "The Daily Show" and trade quips with Jon Stewart.
My dad, who knows a lot about both bull-- -- and integrity, has written bubkes, a couple of illegible notes at the top of those clippings he sent. Sure, he's had an honorable career in the diplomatic corps, provided for a family and put four kids through college. He's funny, affectionate and smart (he will correct the grammar in this piece without prompting). But has he made The New York Times best-seller list? I think not, and it's my duty as his daughter to make note of it.
Of course, as an alternative, we could both try to appreciate each other just as we are.
On the other hand, what could make a papa more proud than knowing his child takes after him?
Lisa Rosen is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who writes mostly about pop culture, including movies and television. Her work has also appeared in the magazines L.A. Architect and Better Homes and Gardens.