A Cougel's father's day

Today was my first time hosting a meal in my new apartment. And the first time I hosted my family, ever. Between both my sisters, their kids, and my parents, there’s usually an occasion to celebrate every other Sunday. In New Jersey. Since I lived away from my family for so many years, I don’t complain, and make the guilt-trip out by train every time. But this time – for father’s day and my sister’s birthday – I went out on a limb and invited the whole gang into the city. I was worried my mother would say no. She can’t bear the traffic (or my father’s agitation because of it) and whenever I suggest a dinner in the city instead of a brunch in NJ, she says, “Tell me, what can I get in NY that I can’t get in NJ?”
They all agreed to come.  They were happy to. I made a list, I checked it fifteen times, and because I don’t have a lot of space or roommates to eat leftovers, in the end I  asked Mom to bring half the things on my list. Orange juice (too heavy to carry with all the other groceries from whole foods), lox for ten Jews (Costco carries family size), a large platter for said lox, kosher bagels (from the extra freezer in mom’s basement), and all the tiny but necessary things I didn’t realize I was missing, like a grater, a vase for the flowers I bought at the farmers market, a salad bowl, and drinking glasses for 4+.  Although as Mom pointed out, I have plenty – an entire shelf! – of martini glasses, in different colors.  (“It’s because I never use them and they haven’t broken yet!”)  In my defense, I would like to add that I did not serve alcohol. Not even mimosas or sparkling wine. Not because it was early in the day, or because we’re Jews.  Nor was it because Mom was there.  But because believe it (or fine, don’t), I am making a concerted effort to cut waay back on all things that are bad for me.
A blog I posted in late February introduced the ongoing saga of my health, and how I try to maintain it, while simultaneously maintaining the illusion that I don’t need to.  http://thecougelchronicles.com/?p=122
This past week had me back at the same doctor because of reoccurring stomach pain that I thought was food poisoning, but I think what I’ve really contracted is mood poisoning. Maybe they go hand in hand. Bottom line, I felt like shit this week and I was sick of it, literally.  Mom, hearing how I felt, urged me to go to the doctor, who immediately sent me for an ultrasound. He told me not to eat; to wait until after the ultrasound.  When I called Mom to update her – even though there was nothing new to report since I hadn’t even had the ultrasound yet, let alone the results – she yelled at me.
“YOU HAVEN’T EATEN SINCE YESTERDAY? It’s 2 o’clock. You must eat something!”
“But Mom, I’m not supposed to. They’re examining my STOMACH. The doctor told me not to.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
She proceeded to call me when I was in the waiting room to whisper conspiratorially: “Tell the receptionist that they need to take you now, or you’re going to faint from not eating.”  I wanted to remind Mom that Jews fast, a lot, for much longer hours, while standing up in a hot synagogue, and they don’t complain about it (until after break fast anyway), or seem to suffer any long-term effects. While I was in an air-conditioned room with free filtered water, and it was only midday. But I kept my mouth shut. 
Anyway, I didn’t get a scary phone call from my doctor late Friday or over the weekend, so I’m assuming that he didn’t see anything too scary. But the episode was enough to set me straight. Sometimes I wonder if we scare ourselves on purpose. Like maybe I needed to sit in a room with twenty other people whom I suspected were there for far more serious reasons than I was, to decide enough is enough.
Brunch was wonderful. I bought tater tots for the kids, but half of them escaped from the cookie sheet only to fall to their death in the inferno below, smoking up my kitchen. My dad came to the rescue, deftly plucking the burn victims out of the oven crevices with a fork. It was quite dramatic, really.  I locked my dog in my bedroom with a rawhide (my niece is afraid of her – for good reason) and after Mom and I argued over whether everyone should eat buffet style or just pile everything on my dining room table and let everyone sit where they want, we had a blast.  
My three favorite moments:
1) I “made” yogurt parfait. Which basically means throwing vanilla yogurt, granola, and fruit into a bowl, and I had never seen Mom (or my sisters) so amazed and impressed with me in my entire life. It was as if I had cooked chulent, all by myself. Or told them I was marrying a nice Jewish guy from the upper west side and was having three kids with him immediately.
2) I have another shelf that needs hanging (it’s the last one, I promise), so Dad was happy to help. It’s his kind of father’s day.  Like the last time, he didn’t have a leveler. But never fear! My brother in-law has an I-pad.  And apparently, it has a toolbox application or some shit on it, leveler included.
3) My father is impossible to buy a gift for. He insists that he doesn’t need anything, and therefore refuses to give us any pointers. This year, it was my turn to “do” father’s day.  Mom told me he needed a new belt (he had a wake up call too I guess, and started a diet. And you can tell he’s lost weight. He kinda looks like a stuffed bear whose lost some of his stuffing.). I got him a belt from Ralph Lauren, and some after-shave. A cliché father’s day gift, but my dad isn’t one for originality, just practicality. I was nervous he would say what he does every year, which is smile and say “thank you” before placing a kiss on each of our heads. This means, Mom’s got returns to make at Bloomies. But this year, his eyes actually lit up.  He stood up and put the belt on, and said to me, “It’s perfect. How did you know?”
It was the perfect day.

My father is not in the mafia. I swear.

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.