It never struck me strange that my father would sing these lyrics to us in all long car trips, at family dinners, whenever we asked him to, and often just because he wanted to :
Now if I had wings like an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly.
That was daddy’s song and we all–children and cousins–loved it. His lyrics were a bit different. Actually very different.
Sad sad and lonely
Sitting in a cell all alone, all alone
If I had the wings of an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly…..
When I was in my 20’s and met my best friend Lucia we were talking one night and she said her father used to sing “you are my sunshine…” to her. “Oh how nice. My father sang “sad sad and lonely. Now I had the wings of an angel.” For the first time I realized this wasn’t a normal father love song!
My father never cared what other people sang, what other people did or what other people thought.
“Look out the window,” he would say to me when we lived in the garden apartment court in Queens, “look at all those people. You’re smarter than 95% of them. Why do you want to be like them?”
Because I was a kid who was struggling just to be accepted? But that was later when I was eleven or so. Earlier I just wanted everybody to like me. I might have loved my father’s song but I was a prisoner of rock & roll. I listened to music constantly. Someday I was going to learn the key to life and I was going to learn it in a song. Nobody had to tell me that; I just knew it.
Aside from music——except for that one song my father sung, he listened to this horrible radio program “Make Believe Ballroom” that made me want to put cotton in my ears——I thought my father was just about perfect.
He was a CPA who slept every morning until 9 or 9:30. At first I didn’t realize it was because he was self-employed, visited clients all day, came home and had dinner with us. After dinner he worked until 2 or 2:30 AM.
My father was the hardest-working person I knew but it came so effortlessly it took me years to realize how hard he worked.
I couldn’t wait to become a grown-up for many reasons but a big one was the ability to sleep late and stay awake late. Wow did I learn differently.
I have a subway poster in my living room. A subway poster is six feet tall and usually goes in a subway (no!) It’s for a play that was going to become seminal in the 1970’s. My father’s friend/client designed it. Every week the poster and I watch Mad Men together as my father, the consummate family man, the moral center of many circles enjoyed people in the arts. He liked the Don Drapers of the world. I was very happy when Don finally made a friend this year. And that he’s a Jewish doctor was the icing on the cake. (Though I know my mother was affair material she would have died…..)
Occasionally my father would go into the city in the middle of the night to bail out a friend from this very cool place called “alimony jail.” I thought it was a place men went to to get away from their current wives and play poker. My father of course thought that was hilarious. My mother thought differently: “Pia these men left their first wives and children. They’re in jail. Jail——because they’re living high on the hog and letting their first wives starve.” She didn’t tell me this until I was about twelve. I understood. Still I found my father’s friends beyond cool.
The poster looks like the beginning of Mad Men; it enjoys seeing relatives. The man who designed it began that “school,” of poster art. In the 1970’s he wrote and produced a play about a group that changed most of our lives. My father never told me that he offered me a job!
When I was in high school we visited that friend and his then wife in London. He offered my sister and I admissions to all night clubs. My father said no. Later in the visit he told us that Charlie Watts and some other mates were coming over. Did we want to hang out? Hello! I was seventeen. There was nothing more in life that I would have liked than to have hung out with a Rolling Stone. I began to imagine how my life was going to change. I was going to be popular. I was going to have the most wonderful life…..
I had to have the only father in America over 50 who knew who Charlie Watts was. He suggested that we go to the all night clubs. And we had an incredible time. But the night I could have had!
I don’t know how many times my father stopped me from meeting Mick Jagger, himself. I stopped counting as it was so tragic. There was a part of me that was glad. I probably would have fallen through the floor. But I never let my father know. Nor did I let him know that I understood why he didn’t let me meet him. Actually I only understand half the time!
This is a brief summary of much longer stories(about 3 chapters) that will be in the book I really am writing. Have a wonderful Father’s Day!