To be real. Totally, authentically you. It’s one of the finest gifts we can give our children because it gives them permission to be real too. Yesterday was my dad’s 82nd birthday. If he were alive, I would thank him for never acting like anyone else.
Growing up, I didn’t appreciate my dad’s authenticity because it included calling out posers, sharing opinions in any setting, and eating in diners where he befriended all the waitresses and flirted endlessly while I picked at my pastrami sandwiches. Plus, I lived with my mother in a world where I sat at the pinnacle of everything grand.
All my father’s friends were everyday people. From the age of six, we spent many Saturdays visiting them. They were auto mechanics, doormen, and car salesman. The gas station visits are the most memorable. Watching someone roll under a car on his back and come out alive was like watching a magic trick. I loved the smell of gasoline and the dark spaces that didn’t get dusted or scrubbed. The mechanics greeted me warmly and let me be which was a gift. I sat in a corner on a stool and listened to light stories about the people they knew. My dad used the word remember a lot.
When I was old enough to absorb the rigid caste system of Park Avenue parents, I felt out-of-place around my father’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, and drive us downtown to chat with Mike, one of the doormen at the Intercontinental Hotel. I sat silent in the front seat, hoping Mike would ignore me. Instead, he leaned into the car, asked me about school and gave me the look. This was a glance saved for children of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, borne of the assumption that you live a charmed life and that you are ruined by your circumstances.
Despite my mother’s best efforts, 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 find simple living is more appealing.
Since my father’s death in June, I am less concerned with ambitions like publishing a book. Now I am writing more for my children than anyone else, so they have a record of our history and a deeper understanding of what truly mattered to their mother, and by extension the values I hope they absorb. At the top of the list is being real.