My father is wearing a decades-old sweatshirt with dolphins printed on it. There is a single drop of drool suspended improbably from the corner of his mouth. I’m fascinated by it. I watch the clock. Two minutes go by. Still there. Five.
At minute seven, my father wakes with a jolt and wipes his chin.
“Nice nap?” I ask.
He nods, grimaces, and checks his Blackberry.
It is 12:15 am and my father has been awake since 5:00 the previous morning.
There were other times like this one.
I remember sitting on his lap fingering a worn Miles Davis album. And he was singing in his strong, clear baritone “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
I was wearing pajamas with feet. I was squirming with satisfaction. I was burrowing my dark shampooed head into his chest. I was dripping on his yellowed undershirt, poking my fingers into the tiny holes along the seams.
“So if you like pyjamas and I like pyjahmas, I’ll wear pyjamas and give up pyjahmas/ For we know we need each other so we, better call the whole off off/ Let’s call the whole thing off.”
I was safe.
My mother calls it The Baby.
The Blackberry, that is.
He checks it reflexively. Compulsively.
He has been known to berate tech people for minor glitches. System errors. He cannot be without his Baby and he will not be without it. Not without some shouting, anyway.
His Blackberry is his right arm. Coffee is his lifeblood. And sleep? Sleep is for mere mortals.
Because my father didn’t go to court, I didn’t- for most of my childhood- have a particularly firm grasp on what precisely it was that he did. It involved, as far as I understood, taxes. Sitting in an office in a big leather chair. Long hours and endless meetings. Files. Lots of lots of files.
My father’s office is a shithole. Red accordion binders covering every inch of it. Ugly battered cherrywood bookcases. He has- for reasons unbeknownst to me- a wreath made entirely of shells resting on top of a pile of papers. On one wall is a painting I did when I was fourteen. On the shelves are dated family photos taken sometime in the mid-’90s. Pretty much everything in his office is circa 1994.
On Saturdays when we were small, Dad would let Hannah and I copy things for him on the xerox machine for ten cents an hour. When that was done, we would retire to the conference room to get high off of whiteboard markers and spin ourselves stupid in the overstuffed chairs.
My father dreamt that we would both become attorneys. We’d start out own practice. Grossman, Grossman & Grossman.
I should tell you that my father is- according to Worth magazine, anyway- one of the hundred best attorneys in America.
I don’t know anyone who reads Worth magazine. You have to buy it special at a Barnes & Noble. Still, though.
He is also listed in the Best Lawyers in America and has been since 1993. He specializes in tax and estate planning.
He is the self-described best-dressed man in Delaware.
My father is the smartest man I know.
I realize that’s an awfully childish thing to say. Naive. You’re supposed to outgrow this stuff. To wise up and realize that your parents are just human. Flesh-and-blood.
But I can’t help myself. I’m 24-years-old. Today my father is 57. And still. Still. He is the smartest, the funniest, the kindest and- yes!- the best-dressed man I know.
Dad doesn’t dress down. He doesn’t do casual Fridays. He wears suits. Day in, day out. Beautiful, Italian-made suits.
When I was little, I’d come shop with him and he’d charge me with picking out his ties. I’d finger the racks. Deep golds and burgundies and pale lavenders.
Dad doesn’t shy away from color. He wears pink and purple and he’s not fazed by paisley or floral prints.
He doesn’t, however, do discount.
In fact, he seems personally offended by Robert Zimmer, the Men’s Wearhouse guy.
There’s something about his catch phrase- “you’re gonna like the way you look- I guarantee it”- that incenses him. Robert Zimmer and his wearhouse of cheap “designer” clothing enrage Dad in a completely disproportionate way.
I’ve found him- on more than one occasion- yelling at Zimmer’s bearded visage on the television screen. “Someone ought to kill that jackass,” he’ll mutter.
“Where,” I asked him, “does this rage come from? What’s the poor man done to deserve your wrath?”
I think it has something to do with the substandard quality of the suits.
“My next wife,” my father says, “will be Madonna. I hear she’s converting to Judaism.”
I roll my eyes. Typical Dad. The word “modesty” has no place in his extensive vocabulary.
“Around the block,” he’ll tell us. “There’s a line of women around the block, dying to go out with me.”
My father is impossible to shop for. It’s the age-old question: what do you get for the man who has everything?
Around the holidays, he mentioned a CD box set he wanted. Some Nazi conductor that no one’s ever heard of. Kurtvangler, I thought his name was.
My mother and I went to Borders. We asked a young clerk.
“Do you know anything about opera?” Mom probed.
He said he did.
We exchanged smug looks.
“Kurtvangler,” I said. “A conductor.”
“Do you by any chance mean Kurt Vonnegut?”
I didn’t actually.
As it turned out, I didn’t mean Kurtvangler either. What I meant to say was “Wilhelm Furtwängler. A conductor from Berlin and, according to Wikipedia, “widely considered to be one of the greatest symphonic and operatic conductors of the 20th century.” Also-allegedly– a Nazi.
Did I mention that my father is an opera buff? A jazz fanatic? A classical music junkie?
He’s also the only man alive looking to buy the Wilhelm Furtwängler box set.
When my sister and I were small, my father read aloud to us. Not children’s books. Classics. Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson. Johnny Tremain and The Phantom Toll Booth. He read me Shane by Jack Schaefer in which an entire chapter is devoted to the disposal of a tree stump. My mother never got that book. But me and Dad, we knew. Symbolism.
My father read To Kill a Mockingbird to me and he called me Scout. He cried and said, “I wish that I could be as good as Atticus Finch.”
To me, he already was.
When I was five, I drew my father with black hair and purple eyes. I clothed him in a red jumpsuit.
To my knowledge, Dad has never owned a red jumpsuit. Nor does he have purple eyes. Like me, he has dark hair and dark eyes. He has a wide smile that, in photographs, borders on manic. He has a slight gap between his front two teeth and he wears extra-strength prescription glasses to correct his truly abominable eyesight.
When he was six, my father sold peeks up his baby sister’s skirt. When he was fourteen, he and a friend blew up a toilet.
The bomb was on a delayed fuse and no one believed that he’d done it because he was such a good student.
As a child, he read the dictionary.
For most of my life, people have been telling me how wonderful my father is.
Once, at one of those defensive driving seminars, a woman came up to me after they’d passed out the diplomas and asked if my father was Jerry Grossman. I said he was and she beamed. “He’s our lawyer! We just love him!”
This was always a source of pride. My father was a Big Man. An Important Man.
He was President of our synagogue when I was six and, for years afterward, his headshot hung on a wall with the rest of the past Presidents. Sometimes at Hebrew School I’d walk by and touch it. Just to say hi.
Everyone knows my father and everyone loves him. He is smart and he is generous. He also happens to be kind of an asshole. He has a wicked temper. A foul mouth. He can be impatient and intolerant. He’s impossibly vain. He’s great in a crisis but the little things drive him nuts. Paper cuts and stubbed toes and all that.
Last year we were taking a trip somewhere. “We’re leaving at 8:00 am,” he intoned. I was, of course, late. Instead of 8:00, we left at 8:05.
When we arrived at the airport, the line for security stretched on for miles. He turned to me, incensed. “This is ALL. YOUR. FAULT.”
Which is to say that my father is complicated. Flawed.
I tried to write about him before but I found myself stymied. He is, it seems, beyond words. He defies classification.
Today is his birthday. Tax day, as fate would have it. He is 57 and he shows no signs of slowing down. He works 14-hour days. He drinks eight cups of coffee and then tops it off with a daily martini.+ He zooms around the country and he jets up to New York to go to the opera. He is a force of nature.
My sister is trying to get pregnant. As such, I decided to ask my father what he’d like his grandchildren to call him.
Dad doesn’t like babies. Small children make him uncomfortable. They’re not particularly clever and they’re dirty, too. I don’t think my father liked my sister or I until we were able to carry on proper conversations.
“What do you think, Dad? Zadie? Poppy?”
“I think,” he replied, “That I’d like to be called Mr. Grossman.”
+It is a great disappointment to Dad that neither my sister or I ever took to alcohol. He has told me on multiple occasions that I’m “one of the few people who ought to drink more.“