by Andrew Sarewitz
I’m starting to see lines of white hair. The gray invaded my whiskers years ago, but until recently, nowhere else. The men of my family tree seem to either begin to bald relatively early or keep a full head of hair that eventually turns to silver. The achromatic flood comes from my mother’s side of the gene pool. Mom’s father passed away at 87 with a full head of hair; gray. The men with genetics favoring my father’s side seem to lose some of their hair. My cousin Allan, the son of my dad’s oldest sister, Sarah, I only met one time when he was 28. I walked into the den in my parents’ house to greet him. He was the spitting image of Dad, including his receded hairline. It was strangely disconcerting seeing the likeness of my father as he might have stood at a time before I was born. Aunt Sarah had married her first cousin Dave, and the product of the short lived marriage was Allan. With the genetics so insular, I’m not surprised he looked much more like my father than any of Dad’s kids.
My father met Mom when they both were 19, at a Jewish summer camp in the tree-lined mountains of Pennsylvania. Mom was a counselor and Dad worked in the kitchen. Two years later, in the autumn after they had turned 21, he told Mom his long term plan. Coming from a very poor upbringing, Dad had thought things out in a way he considered to be responsible. It was 1944, close to the end of the war years. He would complete his time in the army, which was a two year stint. He would come back home and finish his education and then they could marry. As my mother told it to me, she began to cry. “Judy, what’s wrong?” He asked. “If you think I’m waiting for you,” she said, “you are out of your mind!”
They married on October 29, 1944, against almost everyone’s wishes. My mother was a good girl. She was not going to give herself to anyone — not even the man she loved — until she was married.
I have never had “Daddy Issues.” That’s not to say that I didn’t have issues with my father, but that’s not what I mean. I am referring to men and women who are looking for a father figure sexually as well as in a daylight relationship. In my late 20’s, when I dated a Cuban American young man, he referred to me as Papi. I didn’t think anything of it.
In the mid 1960’s, walking up a hill with my grandmother who was visiting from Philadelphia, I asked her why she called Grandpa Lou, “Dad.” It’s such a distant but clear memory, including the location at the time of the question (we were strolling up Ravine Drive in South Orange, NJ). She said it was to remind her daughters — of which my mother was one — that Lou was their father. I have no idea if that is the truth. She passed away when I was 12.
When I was a pre-teen first facing my sexual impulses, I didn’t find myself attracted to authority figures, let alone my father. And for the most part, up until I was in my mid 30’s, I dated men who were close to my age. Then in December of my 36th year, I fell in love with a man 11 years younger than I, who, without any question in my mind, was looking for a stable protector: a father figure. I went with it. At 47, for eleven months, I dated a man 22 years younger (he saw and approached me). He not only had daddy fantasies, the first night we were together, he spoke using a child’s voice. I asked him never to do that again. I know some people use baby talk when making love. I’m not one of them.
When I was 15, I began seeing a psychiatrist. That story has already been written. A number of weeks into therapy, he said I needed to look at my relationship with my father. Defensively, I said I adored my dad, which I did. He said, “tell me what you like about your father.” I only came up with a single example. Money.
I was later surprised to read that it is relatively common not to develop a deep relationship with your father until you are an adult. In general terms, for white upper-middle class families of my generation, fathers were often the bread winners, working long hours and rarely at home. I don’t know that it would have made a difference in my case, since my father and I were such apposing personalities. We did build a great adult friendship beginning in my 20’s, thanks to his pursuit. I think that was also in part due to my growing up enough to listen better, rather than just talk. Conversation was our binding tie. Not sports or sailing or chopping wood.
One vivid memory: not terribly important but oddly defining to me. When my father peed, he took a very long time to finish. That may sound like a strange thing to memorialize, but it’s something that was peripheral but consistent, particularly when we went on long road trips and had to use public bathrooms. My brothers and I would always come out of the men’s room long before Dad.
It isn’t an unusual affliction. Dad had developed an enlarged prostate. Quite common among men as they age. Eventually, when I was no longer living at home, he had surgery to repair the problem. I remember coming home to keep Mom company while he recuperated. “Mother sitting,” I named it.
Sometime later, when my older sister was home visiting, our family went to the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City. I believe it was to see a Matisse exhibition. The museum had just undergone one of its numerous renovations. After walking the exposition, we chose to have lunch at MoMA’s restaurant. Before sitting down for a meal, both my father and I had to use the bathroom. He and I started walking toward the public men’s room on the second floor of the museum. Dad looked at me side eyed, with a mischievous grin. I knew just what he was thinking. He and I began walking faster, picking up the pace to race each other to the lavatory door. Inside, there were two vacant urinals, side by side. We ran to them, laughing and pushing each other. I can’t imagine what the other men in the bathroom were thinking. The contest was on. Who would finish peeing first? It was difficult to stop laughing. He beat me by about 3 seconds, damn him. Then we turned to the sinks directly behind us to wash our hands. Me pretending to be in furious denial from defeat: my father, brimming with a victorious smile.
Though there may be evolved communication, there are issues between parent and child that never completely fix, even if all is forgiven. There wasn’t much left unsaid between Dad and I. But we had very little in common. Maybe that is why I look back with magnified appreciation at the seemingly juvenile behavior set off spontaneously, privately shared between father and son.
When we walked out of the restroom, giggling like teenagers, Mom asked, “what’s so funny?”
Dad and I looked at each other. “Oh, nothing” he said.
About the Author
Andrew has written several short stories (links to published work at www.andrewsarewitz.com) as well as scripts for various media. Mr. Sarewitz is a recipient of the 2021 City Artists Corp Grant for Writing, helping to fund the completion and a reading for a new play based on Andrew’s previously published Creative Nonfiction story of the same title, The Other Side of the Coin. His play, Madame Andrèe, (based on the life of Nancy Wake, the “White Mouse”), garnered First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights series in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the Austin Film Festival Competition and Andrew’s spec script for his sitcom, The White House is a Finalist in the Pitch Now Screenplay Competition. Mr. Sarewitz also has authored numerous historical and critical artist essays with a primary focus on twentieth century non-conformist art from the former Soviet Union.