My Father: A Portrait

For years I’ve been saying my father could easily be the star of a reality TV series. Bruce Jenner has nothing on my dad. The level of crazy my father is at cannot be competed against. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my father, but he is a bag of crazy. It is no wonder where I get my crazy from, not to mention I look just like him–in a feminine way.

Growing up my father was a musician and teacher. To this day my father is still teaching high school. He’s been a teacher for forty years. Forty years straight. Can you imagine? Honestly it’s no wonder he’s started to lose it along the way. If I were to teach for forty years straight, I’d need to go home to a padded room. God bless him for having the strength to be a teacher for as long as he has been. Not just a crappy teacher, but a great teacher.

Before he married, settled down, and became an educator my father attempted being a rock star. He toured and had a band. There was even a time, when he was moderately famous. We’re talking like Ben Gibbard  before Death Cab and in the Postal Service famous, or Tim Kasher from The Good Life famous. Not Steven Tyler famous–just to be clear. He was popular for a very brief time, maybe he was less famous than Gibbard or Kasher, maybe he was like Owl City famous. I don’t really know all the details of my father’s musical career. I do know that he loved music more than anything.

If I were to make a list of the many ways my father and I are similar our love of music would probably be at the top of the list. One of the first memories I have with my father is when he brought home my piano. I remember watching a lot of classical music concerts on TV as a kid, and wanting more than anything to learn the violin. So you can imagine my excitement when my father brought home this beautiful upright caramel colored Wurlitzer piano. That piano is still my first love. Oh God. I was so excited.

I didn’t realize my father was grooming to me to be a musician in his band until I was a teen, but by then I didn’t care. I was obsessed. My father and I would sing together. He would play his guitar and I would play the piano and together we would harmonize and sing together. When I look at my father now and see how hardened, hurt, and damaged he has become I think about how music totally bonded us and how he shouldn’t have stopped being a musician. My father has file cabinets full of sheet music. Sheet music that was off limits until I was in high school. He has all kinds of sheet music; standards, show tunes, ballads, Sinatra, and on and on. He has everything. Honestly, I should try and catalogue it for him so that it is easier to sift through.

He owned all this sheet music, because after years of trying to be famous he decided it wasn’t going to work out and became a wedding singer. He finished college, became a wedding singer on the side. Mind you, he wasn’t an Adam Sandler wedding singer. He wasn’t cheesy like that. His band was booked every weekend. My dad made more money singing than he did teaching.

I’ve mentioned before that my father was born in Italy. When he moved my family to the town where I grew up, he really struggled to hold on to the Italian heritage. He wanted us to speak Italian at home, which we didn’t. He really struggled with the American life in suburbia. He also struggled to cope with having Black Sheep as a daughter. As she grew and became more beautiful, getting attention from boys, ignoring her academics and music, my father really struggled to keep her on a leash. We couldn’t talk to boys on the phone–not even in high school, no sleep overs (which I’m strangely fine with now, and will probably enforce this rule when I have kids), we had a phone log (I should save the phone log for the memoir), and the list goes on. He desperately tried to control all aspects of our lives.

When he finally caved in and let us have boyfriends, my senior year of high school and Black Sheep’s Junior year, he would drive to the movies or wherever we claimed to be to make sure we were actually there. Now I know this sounds crazy, because it is, but the man was just doing his best. Being from a small ass town in Italy, and then growing up in a city where everyone around him was just like him, an Italian immigrant, made his life in the American Suburb really challenging. He didn’t know what American boys were like, and he didn’t want them hanging around his daughters.

My mother says you always marry a man that has the  most irritating trait your father had. I don’t know if that’s true. I have never lived with FH and while I do see similarities between my father and FH, FH isn’t quirky like my father. I can see how he will have the same proud father moments my dad had. When I published my first piece, my dad was beaming. He told everyone. He then told me, ” I have tons of stories for you, if you want to write them.” I told my father I was going to a singing audition recently, and he told me, “Make sure you pick the right song, you’ve got the voice, just make sure you don’t pick some easy la-la-la song. It’s got to have range. Maybe sing something Streisand would sing.” Gotta love it.

While my father seemed crazy–he still does–I know he was trying his best. My father is a pack rat, I believe because he is the child to parents who went through WWII, lived in Italy during a time of great poverty, then immigrated and had nothing and were forced to work very hard to get where they ended up. I think living in the small, American town where I grew up, my father lost his balance. He watched Black Sheep struggle. He was betrayed by her many times, and was hurt deeply by those betrayals.

Because my father is an educator, the man cannot stop talking. Seriously, I called him today to wish him Happy Father’s day and we were on the phone for almost an hour. Mostly talking about how he is finally ready to retire from teaching and the music industry–the man loves pop music. He’ll call Frankenmommy to tell her he his on his way home and will yack her ears off for thirty minutes. The man is a talker.

I feel like as you read this, you’re proabably thinking, “The man doesn’t sound crazy to me.” Well he is. Sometimes he’ll say things that make you wonder. I remember one time at the dinner table, I was out of college so it wasn’t that long ago, he was talking about some one who had wronged him and saying something about “breaking a knee cap” to “send a message” and how “the mafia had some good methods.” Baby sister, Frankenmommy, and I looked at him while simultaneously stopping our chewing. I swallowed whatever it was we were having for dinner and said, “You can’t possibly mean that.” He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no. He would never do something like but, the way of thinking is a bit much. My father is also a ninja. The house I grew up in isn’t very big. It sits on a quarter acre lot, 3 bedrooms, patio, and has a pool. I swear to you, we would have to scream at the top of our lungs as kids to get him to come inside on Sundays to get ready for mass. Picture three barefooted children in church clothes screaming, “Pappa! Pappa!” He would then emerge ready for mass as if nothing.

I’m convinced that when my father retires he will finally admit to the family that he was, in fact, a CIA agent. That teaching high school was a cover. A good cover at that, I took his class three years in row (he teaches an elective). When he does admit this, it will explain the need to keep things for parts, his having to write down everything, and his understanding and justification of the mafia’s criminal behavior.  We’ll be sitting at Sunday dinner.

He’ll say, “Now that I’m retired I can finally tell you, I’ve been working for as CIA agent for years.”

We won’t even bat eye.

“Yeah, we know,” I’ll say.

“We’ve been onto it for years,” Frankenmommy will mutter.

“Dad, you’re like a ninja,” Baby Sister will explain.

“Honestly Daddy, it explains a lot,” Black Sheep will breathe out.

The man is set to retire this coming school year. I’ll let you know how it all goes down.



p.s. Daddy, you’re the best and I wouldn’t trade you for any other father. I’m down with the crazy. Lots of writing material.