To be real. Totally, authentically you is one of the best gifts you can give your children because it gives them permission to be true too. If my dad were alive, I would thank him for never acting like anyone else. Growing up I didn’t appreciate his authenticity because it included calling out posers and sharing bold opinions in any setting. Plus, I lived with my mother in Manhattan where good manners and restraint were essential.
My dad’s friends were everyday people. We spent Saturdays making impromptu visits to auto mechanics, doormen, and used car salesmen. Then we’d go to the Mamaroneck diner for lunch so he could chat with the waitresses. He was such a flirt.
The gas station visits were my favorite. I liked the unusual feeling of a dingy room and the smell of oil and gas. At Pete’s gas station, I’d sit in a dim corner of the garage that was lit like a broadway stage drama, one light under an ailing car and the other pointed at the counter where Pete stacked the bills. The rest of the room was dark. My dad would stand next to Pete and put his elbow on the counter. I listened, from a distance, to light stories where my dad said, “Remember,” often. Sometimes I saw Pete disappear under a car and roll out unscathed with a smile on his face. What a magic trick.
When I was old enough to absorb the caste system and mores of Park Avenue parents, I felt out-of-place around my dad’s friends. Not because I looked down on them but because I felt like a spoiled kid. Occasionally my dad would pick me up after school, which was a mansion on the corner of 91st Street and Fifth Avenue. He’d drive us downtown to chat with Mike, a doormen at the Intercontinental Hotel. I sat on the front seat in my uniform, hoping Mike would ignore me. Instead, he leaned into the car, asked me about school and gave me the look. The glance reserved for privileged kids who are naturally ruined by their circumstances.
Despite my mother’s diligent efforts to root me in Manhattan’s upper class culture, I am more like my dad. Chatting with strangers is second nature, and I am a little too free with my opinions. I still love Tiffany’s and truffles, but day-to-day I prefer simple living. A garden, sun and a rocking chair are the life of my soul along with any conversation that is real.
Since my father’s death, I’ve had lots of time to think about the good things I learned from him and less about the bad. At the top of the list is being true. It lets us bond with the friends of our souls, and it gives us the opportunity to serve others with the power that comes from being real.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. Instead, let’s consider 2020 the year of truth, first to ourselves and then to our friends and family. We’ve lived with lies in the landscape for too long, and there’s nothing we can do about most of them, but we do have the extraordinary power of our own truth. And it’s worth telling.