I realize that I risk sounding like Meadow Soprano, but I’d like to try to demystify some things about my father that can be easily misinterpreted. Here are the top ten:
1) He’s an immigrant who lives in New Jersey, one town over from where The Sopranos was filmed. My parents’ house has big columns in front of it, and the same interior layout as The Sopranos. But that’s just a coincidence.
2) He wears wife-beater undershirts, leather loafers, and sometimes, suspenders. But it’s because they’re comfortable.
3) He’s a big guy, with tufts of hair above his ears and nothing on top, so his thick eyebrows accentuate the deep creases between them, which makes him look serious (and a little scary). But my grandfather looked like that too. (Although no one is really sure what he did for a living, but no matter.)
4) What does my father do? Okay, I probably should have left this one off the list, since it won’t help my case, but I’d like to be honest here. He works in construction. And import export. Please don’t ask what it is exactly that he exports. Or how (no, not in the trunks of cars).
5) He carries a big fat money clip in his pocket, and pays for lots of things in cash. Including, as legend may have it, my big fat Jewish wedding.
6) He doesn’t speak unless it’s necessary, or when using his favorite line, “Don’t bust my balls.”
7) His favorite movie is The Godfather. But isn’t it everybody’s?
8) There is nothing more important to him than his brothers, and his family. He doesn’t have any friends, because they are not to be trusted the way family is.
9) My father used to sometimes call my ex-husband “Fredo,” after Don Corleone’s mentally inferior son. And no, I don’t know where my ex has disappeared to ever since he (according to my father) “went against the family.”
10) My brother-in-law works with my father and he’s so loyal – it’s loyalty people, not fear! – that he won’t tell us details about his day to day employment.
After years of us teasing my father about the above, he finally decided to just go with it. He has a wicked sense of humor, so why not f*ck with people?
Last year, my parents’ fourteen-year-old Golden Retriever died, and my parents wanted to bury him in the backyard. My father asked my brother-in-law to bring in some workers from a house they were building (the same one they were approached to film in by none other than The Sopranos production, but my father declined. He didn’t want strangers “poking around in his business.”) So, my brother-in-law drove two Hispanic carpenters over to the house and explained (their English was poor) as best he could that they needed to dig a big hole in our backyard. After they finished, my father emerged from the house to inspect it. These men had never met my father before. He peered into the fresh grave by the woods, sufficiently sized to contain the corpse of a seventy-pound retriever, looked at the two men and then opened his arms wide. “More grande,” he said. Make it bigger.
According to my brother-in-law, the ride back with the two workers in the pick-up truck was silent. Eventually, one of the men looked at him and said, “Su padre…Cosa Nostra?” (ie. “Sicilian Mafia”)
But my dad isn’t scary to me (except when he gets pissed). Those of us lucky enough to be on the inside are privy to his true motives. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for his children, and that includes flying out with my mom to Los Angeles at a moment’s notice, to take his heartbroken daughter to a spa for a weekend when she needed it most (my mother had a coupon). When I was worried that my father might not accept the choices I had made in my life, or the detour that it had abruptly taken, he surprised me with a strong accepting silence. When I left Los Angeles and the life I had there, and moved back to New York City alone, he was waiting for me at the arrivals gate with my niece on his shoulders, welcoming me home. He’s over sixty, and looks older than that, but he still insists on installing things into each apartment I move into, straining, with reading glasses slipping off his sweaty nose. He calls me almost every day for a one-sided conversation that lasts no more than two minutes, “just to hear my voice.”
If my father loves me for who I am, and accepts who I am becoming, then, mafia ties or not, I’m going to accept him too. Or rather, in his words, what I don’t know can’t hurt me.
*Disclaimer: Some statements in this post are exaggerated and names altered for Cougel’s – and her family’s – own protection.