(Re)Collection #26: Parents Pt.2
Updated: Mar 31
He might be a father, but he sure ain't a dad.
--Androgynous, The Replacements
I have a need to understand who my father was. There is not much information available. There has not been for many years.
My mom was the keeper of much of that valuable history, but she took it with her to the grave. A final act of resistance, sadness and vengeance. In light of that, I attempt to piece together a rudimentary picture from a loose collection of images and anecdotes.
I have interviewed friends of my parents. A good number that I would have loved to talk to are dead, but a handful are still walking the earth with their marbles in tact. I recently spoke to Jim Kaufman, a fraternity brother of my dad's. They were both in Delta Upsilon. In the fraternity, my dad was called the Golden Guinea. From the caricature above, it should be obvious why. The blonde Italian.
My dad went to Bucknell College in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and graduated in 1959. He was an aspiring intellectual. He loved the poets and writers of the Lost Generation. He had a special affinity for Hemingway. And he was an English major. People have told me he dreamed of becoming a writer. Based on the library he left behind, I get a very rough sense of his taste--Joyce, Rimbaud, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Salinger, Fitzgerald, O'Neill, Miller, Camus, Sartre, etc.
Jim was a few years younger. A quiet, small town kid trying to play catch up to the worldliness he perceived other college men possessed. My dad was well-read, outspoken and a contrarian. He loved music and art and was a bit of a free thinker at that conservative, liberal arts school.
Their friendship was two sided though. My dad thought Jim was very together and highly capable. He was going places. My dad admired him and expressed often that he thought Jim would become a successful politician some day. My father, who also loved photography and photo journalism, would be there to take the photos.
After Jim graduated, he worked for New York Representative Theodore Kupferman as a young, energetic legal assistant in his Washington, D.C. office. My dad and Jim spent a lot of time together. Jim moved to North Carolina Avenue on Capitol Hill. He lived right down the street from my parents. It was a low to middle income, racially mixed neighborhood in the shadow of the Capitol.
My dad bought a German shepherd. He explained to Jim that such a dog was a symbol of power. People respected that. It also made you a less likely target of robbery. They all hung out at the house my parents rented. According to Jim, my parents were very warm and welcoming hosts. During one especially drunken December dinner, my father attempted to put the recently purchased Christmas tree in the holder. In a moment of frustration, he decided to nail the tree to the floor. Like father, like son!
I was born on July 22, 1966 at Sibley Hospital. But my dad did not go to the hospital that day. In fact, he was walking around with Jim on Capitol Hill and bending his ear about literature and music. Jim asked my dad why he wasn't at the hospital to see his second child be born. My father replied that they had it all taken care of at the hospital. There was no reason for him to be there.
It was the way my dad dealt with family. My mom took care of it. His concerns were elsewhere. Jim lost touch with my father a few years later when he moved back to New York City to pursue his law career.
My dad tried to make a career of photography. It didn't work out. He took some nice photos though. Most of them were lost over the years, but the few I still have strike me as detached and lonely. The black and white medium enhances that impression. Maybe that was the serious style he was emulating. Or maybe that reflects how he felt. I am not so sure. For all his talk of art, literature and music, my dad couldn't make it happen for himself. I know that feeling. It is not a good one.
I have empathy for how he felt. How he conducted himself is another story for a later time. He loved the drinks and the parties. Maybe he wasn't ready for children in his mid-twenties. I don't think he was ever really ready.