Posts Tagged ‘father-daughter relationship’

Nothing Personal: Some Thoughts on Father’s Day

June 16, 2010

blue soapbox  My father was an eccentric who loved discussing topics that no one else seemed to know about.  Not a classroom learner, he dabbled at college but didn’t finish, apparently conceiving a philosophy out of it: academic achievement was the sign of a small mind.

The trouble was, I liked academic achievement.

As a child, I went about the business of school under the radar, probably hoping that if I quietly excelled, my parents would stop fighting.  But after their divorce when I was a young teen, I became more provocative toward my father.  In an attempt to get back at him for his relentless attention-seeking—and because I was starting to notice he wasn’t always as well-informed as he seemed—I began to ignore his intellectual meanderings.

Dad would retaliate by telling me I lacked imagination, or that I wasn’t a voracious enough reader.  Or he’d say I was “rigid” for wanting to cut short a visit so I could study for an upcoming exam.

I was sixteen when my father won custody.  It was October of my senior year at Berkeley High, and a few weeks after moving in with Dad, I began filling out the application to Cal.  I asked him to handle the financial aid forms.

Dad took one look at the paperwork and started hyperventilating.  “If you were a real intellectual, you wouldn’t need college,” he remarked.

I got my way, was awarded scholarships and grants, and took advantage of my college experience in spite of him.  But my inner landscape was another story.  When I did well in school, I worried I’d soon be exposed as a fraud.  And any subject or book I found difficult seemed to validate my father’s skepticism of my intellect.

Was Dad insecure?  Of course—deeply, exhaustingly.  Did he feel humiliated by my ability to succeed in college and get along without him financially?  Probably.  Was he hurt that I couldn’t bring myself even to feign interest when he’d pontificate?  No question.

But these are explanations.  And explanations don’t show you how to live.

I like getting older, because sometimes insights come my way for no reason other than that time has passed.  A couple of months ago, a lovely cousin of mine e-mailed me about some letters she’d found from Dad’s father.  She mentioned something I never knew:  that before my grandfather immigrated to New York and became a shopkeeper, he’d been admitted into the top yeshiva in his village in Ukraine, and that in a very scholarly family, he was considered the most brilliant brother.

I didn’t know Grandpa well and had no personal sense of his academic prowess.  But I suddenly felt a strong kinship with him, a fatherly presence one generation removed.

I also realized at a new level how ashamed of himself my father must have felt at the time I was applying to Cal.  Sure, he’d fought for custody and won, arguably a heroic act, but he’d also recently lost his retail store and livelihood and was barely making ends meet.  And he wasn’t as accomplished as his own father, who’d fallen short of the rabbinate only because of life circumstances, not because of a lack of ability or focus.

I wish I could say that as I come to understand my father more fully, his condemning voice naturally ebbs from my consciousness.  But it’s not so simple.  In one way or another, I do battle with that voice every time I sit down to read or write.

What I am starting to grasp is that really, it was nothing personal.

Published in The Piedmont Post, June 16, 2010

How to Amass a Record Collection

January 27, 2010

blue soapbox  Start with a father whose retail LP record shop sits at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph in Berkeley, just opposite the Cal campus, during what’s generally called “the turbulent 1960s.”

This father of yours has a violent temper and an abiding skepticism of institutions of higher learning.  Mostly, though, he’s known as that short, wiry, opinionated guy who shares his classical music expertise with those in search of enlightenment—also, those who don’t realize they are, like music professors from across the street.

Comprehend; memorize:  Mozart’s symphonies are predictable, his chamber music brilliant.  Opera is, on the whole, overrated, Renaissance music tedious, Chopin overwrought.  The announcers on the local classical radio stations are pretentious ignoramuses.  Thumbs up: Bach, first and foremost.  Also Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev, Bartok, Richard Strauss, Copland, and that mind-blowing new composer Terry Riley.

At home, you have your own family riots, but at the store, when your father flies into a rage, he doesn’t hit people.  He will, however, boot out any customer who offends him by, for example, interrupting his “conducting” of Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations to request Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album.  “We only carry that in our—Turlock location,” he retorts witheringly, the veins in his head standing out.

There is no Turlock location, and he has White Christmas in stock, but he’s discriminating.  If the customer strikes him as moronic, he won’t sell to her, period—though if a tear gas canister has gone off across the street, he might just give her the thing for free.

Do not ask your father to bring home Johann Strauss waltzes, which are pure schlock; he’ll laugh at you.  Also, even though he carries “pop,” like albums by that cute new group the Beatles, do not request such things.  Ask instead for harpsichord music and Debussy.

After high school, go to college, if you must.  Branch out into classical composers your father hasn’t vetted, like Britten and Barber.  Add Beethoven chamber music.  Allow boyfriends to introduce you to Steely Dan and Traffic and Dexter Gordon; also Schubert’s Trout Quintet, which your father has somehow overlooked.

Move all your records to every place you live in; they are a worthy burden.  Listen each day.  It’s the music, not the sound system; audiophiles do not understand what’s important.  Cherish especially your scratchy copy of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, Bach’s Cantata #78 (that transcendent soprano-alto duet), and the Brahms e-minor cello sonata, opus 38.  Decide you don’t like Bach’s The Art of Fugue as much as your father does, while you do like Carmina Burana and the Berlioz Requiem.

Arrange the pop records alphabetically, the classical chronologically; gasp to realize this is your very own stipulation.  Where Winwood and Wonder can be co-located, Prokofiev and Purcell cannot.  Put Bach with Handel, not Bartok.  Put Mozart with Haydn, not Monteverdi.  Put Brahms with Tchaikovsky, if you happen to wind up with any Tchaikovsky by mistake.

Continue listening to your records into the era of cassette tapes, then CDs, then iPods, because the idea of transferring it all to digital files seems almost physically exhausting, and besides, nothing is as absorbing or sounds as authoritative as your collection of vinyl.  Your father was wrong about so much, but he was largely right about records.

When your father dies and none of your sisters wants his LPs, take the records home.  Weed out the monaural ones.  Distribute the extra copies of St. Matthew’s Passion, ultimately his favorite, to worthy recipients.

Do a double-take that his collection somehow includes a stray flute concerto or two, which he would have dismissed as “higglety-pigglety.”  You might put it this way: the flute is a condiment, not a main course.  In either case, you know he meant to get rid of such lesser works.

Drive the rejects down to Salvation Army.  Those ignoramuses at KDFC will play them nonstop anyway, should you ever miss them, and you know you never will.

Published in the Piedmont Post, January 27, 2010