12 May 2013: Happy Mothers’ Day Mom; Happy Birthday Dad

My parents have both been gone for many years, but today I find myself thinking of both of them.  Because it is Mothers’ Day, of course, but by coincidence this year it also falls on 12 May, which was my Dad’s birthday and if he were here to celebrate it this would have been number eighty-five.  I miss them both very much; to this day there are those “gotcha” moments when I almost reach for the phone to call them.  I don’t suppose those moments will ever end completely. 

I was not the easiest kid to raise, I suppose:  I inherited from my mother a quick temper and a mouth to go with it, and from my father a dogged sense of who I was and what I wanted that made me nearly impossible to turn from a path once I had chosen it.  The only excuse I can make about these flaws in my character is that I came by them honestly.

Ultimately, however, their biggest headaches came from something outside the home:  from the first day I stepped foot on the schoolyard, I was the “class faggot” and was treated as such right up to and including my freshman year of high school.  Why it stopped then, and as abruptly as it had begun, I shall never know.  What I do know is that it would color everything I did for the better part of a decade.

Unable to fight on the schoolyard, I came home and took my anger out on my younger brother.  And when, in middle school, the bullying and abuse became unbearable, I simply stopped going to school.  The thought made me physically ill, and it took more than a year of therapy to bring back the strength I had lost.

So it might seem odd that I chose to major in Drama at University.  I had ambitions to become an actor from the age of five, and had been studying both piano and voice privately for some years.  It was in Drama in high school that my talents finally gained me a measure of respect from my peers, even from some of the jocks, who may have thought what I did was “faggy” but who could not help but respect the talent and dedication it took.

Of course Mom, being a Mom, thought everything I did was wonderful; once when I spent a year touring with a kids’ musical at schools around the Metro New York area, she followed me everywhere and I think never missed a performance.

Dad took some more convincing.  Oh, he knew I was talented; he also knew that I was proposing to enter an industry that is cutthroat to the point of nastiness and in which the competition is so fierce it can eat you alive.  I think he was waiting more to see if I had the balls to follow it through:  I had already showed that I had the talent, though up to my junior year at University nothing I did really stretched my abilities.

Then along came a play, written by a member of the playwrighting class, a long one-act, one-set character study about four inmates of a nursing home, trapped not only in the institution but in their own aging bodies (my character was eighty and the makeup alone took three hours to get into) and failing minds.  I shall never forget the opening night of that play.  My parents were as usual in the audience, and the lights came up on a stage that was empty except for a cafeteria dining table and four chairs.  My character entered first, barely moving, using a walker; I had been specifically instructed by the director to make the walk to my seat the longest walk I could make it.

That play has always remained one of the most intense experiences I’ve had; certainly the most intense one of my student days.  But it was after the curtain fell that the significant moment happened for me.

My father was not a man who gave out praise easily; he was somewhat in awe of my musical talent because he had always wanted to play the piano but he grew up in the Depression and there was no money for lessons on an instrument the family could not have afforded anyway.  My acting was somewhat more doubtful; while it had always been an inside joke in the family that I would grow up to be an actor and Dad would be my agent, he did not see me really give a performance until that evening.  And he told me point-blank that he had not been sure until that night that I could act, that I had what it took, and that he was now convinced.  After that both of them bore a slight resemblance to Mama Rose in GYPSY; Mom had the big mouth but Dad was the sharp-minded business man to whom I could always turn when I needed advice.  It might not always be pleasant, and he never minced words, a trait which I came to value because I could always count on him to tell me the unvarnished truth.

So as I think of both of them today, this Mothers’ Day and what would have been Dad’s eighty-fifth birthday, I remember that in spite of whatever heartache I may have given them, they spent most of my life celebrating me.  Celebrating not only what I could do, but who I was.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you both and I will always miss you.  God truly blessed me when He gave me you two as parents.

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