When I look at the picture above, it’s insane to me how much my dad and I look alike. As I get older, I realize that we’re alike in more than just looks. For example, I seem to have inherited my father’s penchant for being late to everything. When I was younger, it would make me so angry, and I used to wonder how the hell my dad always managed to do it. Now that I’m doing it myself, I still have no idea. No matter what I do to be on time (setting two alarm clocks, leaving the house much earlier than I need to, having To Do lists so as to organize my time better), I always manage to get places a little late. Another inheritance? My love of debate. I will argue with anyone about anything, sometimes arguing points I don’t even believe just to see if I can do it. Because it’s fun. Because I grew up in a house where arguing with someone meant you loved them. My dad and I are alike in artistic temperament, in our love of learning, and our pride about The Things We Know. I see my father in some of my best qualities, and I see him in my flaws. But one thing is for sure – I am definitely my father’s daughter.
Which is why it hurts that I can’t talk to him anymore. For those of you who don’t know, my father suffers from dementia and has been in a nursing home for the past five years or so. While his health is pretty good despite several heart-related scares, his mind is gone. I wrote a piece about what that feels like like back in 2008 that’s still pretty accurate, should you care to read it, called Strange Country.
Before I left New York in September, I paid my dad one last visit at the home, which is where the picture above was taken. He barely said anything as my siblings and niece and Robin talked around him. I told him that I was moving to Los Angeles to try and be a television writer, and the news that his baby girl was leaving the state to pursue her writing dream was met with a blank stare and the sighed equivalent of “That’s nice, Dear.” This from a man who himself wanted to be a writer; a man who wrote three full-length plays in his late fifties and early sixties and shopped them around to theaters in New York; a man who wowed everyone with his poetry at a reading I organized. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to. It sucked that I couldn’t share my biggest news with him in a way that would get through to him.
However, my dad is never far from my mind as I make my way here in Los Angeles. Even though I couldn’t tell him about my move, or about being published in Whedonistas, or any of my other writing-related successes, I’m absolutely sure that he would be proud of me if he knew. My parents are much older than those of most of my peers, and grew up at a time and in a place where “following your dreams” was the last in a long list of priorities. As much happiness as there was in my dad’s life, there was also a lot of regret, particularly where writing was concerned, and a big reason why he was so gung-ho about sending me to NYU to study acting and writing was, I think, because he saw that I was completely serious about making a go of an artistic life, and wanted to live vicariously through me.
That used to make me feel pressure. It used to make me feel nervous about possibly failing and letting him down. Now? I know that as much as he would’ve loved Being a Writer, what he regretted most was Not Being Free To Write. It wasn’t about being a name or making money at it. It was about him never having had people tell him it was okay to do what he wanted to do. He’d always tell me that one of his biggest regrets was that, as much as he loved his parents, that they never really encouraged him academically. And telling them that he wanted to be a writer? SO not the thing to do as the oldest in a Puerto Rican family in New York in the 1950s. You either went to college for a “real job,” or you got married and got a job out of high school, or you joined the military. So that’s what he did. He did a term of service in the Air Force (pretty much between wars, so he never saw combat, thank God. But he DID see a lot of Greenland when he was stationed there for a year), he married my mother in 1960, and he had a respectable job with the Post Office for about 20 years and fathered three children. Then he started getting restless. He got his Master’s Degree in English Literature in the 80s, when I was a little girl. He studied abroad at that time, in Paris at the Sorbonne, allowing me to celebrate my 7th birthday in France. He changed careers a lot when I was a kid, and I think a lot of that had to do with him not being entirely happy. He was a TA at Touro College in their English Department. He sold real estate. But there was always writing, and when he started to pursue it more seriously in his later years, writing those plays or a collection of poetry, I helped him learn to type and taught him how to use a laptop so he could try to rejoin the writing world in an age of new-fangled technology. He tried so hard, finally finding the wherewithal in himself to just keep writing after a lifetime of not finding it in others. But by then it was too late. His mind started to go, and he eventually couldn’t write anymore. I didn’t appreciate what that meant at the time – I was too busy being annoyed that he needed me to explain how to cut and paste…again – but I appreciate it now, and it’s the thing that allows me to do what I do every day.
I’ve seen what happens when a person who needs to write, or otherwise be creative, stifles that in favor of the kind of life that everyone around you tells them they’re supposed to want. My dad didn’t want that for me, and I don’t want that for myself. And so I keep moving forward, despite the hardship, because I know from his experience that not moving forward, not living as a writer, would be much, much harder.
This Father’s Day, I want to say that I’m grateful for the gift of freedom that my dad gave me; grateful that he always let me know that living as an artist was okay if that’s what I wanted to do. It’s because of my dad that my life feels possible. It’s because of him that I’m not afraid of the insecurity that comes with this life, because I know that there are so many other things of which to be afraid.
To all the other dads out there who are giving their kids all their love, supporting them, and providing for them not only financially, but emotionally, I’d like to say HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! Particularly to my brother Kenny, who’s an awesome dad to my wonderful nephew, William, and my brilliant niece, Hannah. Speaking as a hard-core Daddy’s Girl, I’d be the first to say that I know just how important you wonderful men are. I hope you all have an amazing day today!