I got flowers for my birthday. Again. She sent me a vase of purple tulips with a little smiley card with the message, “Happy Birthday, Dad! Love, Lila.” It was typed in all capitals, like she was yelling at me.
Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s okay for a man to get flowers. I was born in the 30s, I don’t still live there. Her gift is certainly better than getting a tie or a sweater or tote socks to keep my feet warm. But still, I turned 75 and now suddenly I’m a man who has everything? All I have now is a golden parachute that morphed into tin on the way down.
And as this pertains to Lila, this causes me great stress. Not that I’d ever tell her that. You know I stopped judging her and her stupid decisions several years ago. I no longer say, “Are you kidding? You want to quit acting to own a restaurant? Do you have investors? Business skills? Do you know how to make more than mac and cheese with tofu hot dogs?”
No, I don’t say stuff like that anymore. And she hugs me more because of it, but that doesn’t make me feel as good as you think it would. I’d feel better knowing she’s leading a productive life and will carry on the family name with a modicum of pride.
Don’t get me wrong. I gave her all the tools to be a successful, productive adult. Good schools, exposure to culture, college. I even paid for that MFA in acting. She can hang the diploma in her restaurant … that, by the way, never happened. When my wife and I argue about Lila, she says I didn’t give Lila the tools to be a happy adult. Her kids, she says, are happy and productive. This is a little too true. A doctor, a lawyer, and a firefighter. And not just any firefighter, a smoke jumper. The young man jumps out of planes to fight fires. He might as well be a super-hero. Or an idiot.
Excuse me, a happy idiot.
So one night a few years ago, after watching Lila’s face crumple when I asked her whether yoga instructors got health insurance or did they all depend on their parents forever, I decided to stop judging. Yes, I had had two martinis and a fight with my wife who said dinner with my daughter and two martinis is two martinis too many. But eventually, it was my decision. So I announced to my wife that I would no longer judge Lila’s decisions or to explain how her new fangled get rich scheme will not succeed without hard work … the thing she most avoids.
Now I just listen, and I say, “that’s nice, honey.”
But Lila’s pushing me to the limit. Now, she’s going to marry a man to keep him in the country. I did mention to her that this was illegal, just in case she didn’t know. She shrugged. What I didn’t mention was that he was an idiot and shouldn’t be allowed to stay in this country. No, no, no. Not like that. You liberals get all jumpy way too fast. I have no problem with immigrants—we’re a country made of them. My problem is with morons.
And Lila’s faux-fiancé is the epitome of moronic. And he’s Canadian –don’t look at me that way, I don’t have anything against Canadians—but this is not some man she’s saving from a despot. This is my daughter hanging out with a man who says “supposably” and “libary” and looks at you in a perplexed way when you correct him, as if he’s thinking, “but I just said that.”
No, no, no. I didn’t say any of these things. I told you I stopped judging her. Okay, yes, not telling her about my judgments is, in fact, more accurate. When Lila told me it was a good deal because she could share his apartment in Williamsburg and he’d give her discount on the rent and they’d certainly pass the fed interviews because they actually would live together, I took a deep breath and said, “that’s nice honey.”
Don’t get me wrong, I do think Lila is smart. She’s suspicious about my sudden acceptance of all her plans. I mean, I tell her, “I just don’t judge you anymore, honey. I just want you to be happy.” Isn’t that a comforting thing to say to one’s child? Don’t you wish you had heard that from your father?
She is just not satisfied with that answer. Instead, she has informed me that my brain has not stopped working and so I must still be thinking. And if I’m still thinking, I’m still judging. Then she told me judging is just how reasonable people organize information.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. I told you, she is smart.
But then yesterday happens. She called to tell me wants to start a dog washing/skype café. She asked me for my opinion. And I said, “Sounds like an interesting idea, honey.” And she said, “Interesting good? Or interesting you’re pretending not to judge me because you want me to love you more than I did when I was a kid.”
She can’t have such a ridiculous idea. I think she’s testing me. She’s always done that. Trying to shock me into paying her special attention—like she was the middle child instead of an only child who got near constant attention from her stay-at-home mother who refused to work even when money was tight because we agreed when we were 22 and stupid ourselves that she’d be a stay-at-home mom.
I digress. I used to call Lila Miss Shock and Awe well before there was a war branded with that slogan. When she was 16, she dropped a condom on the dining room floor in front of my very Catholic mother. And yes, it spurred a loud conversation about teenage sex and virginity. But then my very Catholic mother asked my daughter if she was familiar with Herpes and asked her how it compared to the Clap.
No, no, no, I didn’t want to know why my mother has so much personal knowledge of gonorrhea. And my daughter simply reveled in making everyone at the table uncomfortable. This was the 80s. She wore her hair in some ugly way—short on one side, long on the other. She once tried to go to the opera with her bra on the outside of her shirt. So this is what I mean by judging: I told her she looked like a dime store hooker.
That, in retrospect, might have been harsh. I do recognize that I might have been too hyperbolic in my criticisms. Which is what led me to cease judging.
But she did look like a cheap hooker.
And so now she seems to be testing me again. She wants to shock me into saying something judgmental. Now don’t you agree? I mean, who thinks that people want to wash their dogs and talk on skype at the same time? I told her, “That’s a fine idea.” And I told her I was happy she shared it with me. Do you know what she did? She didn’t say, “Thanks Dad, you’re the best.”
What am I supposed to do? I have no idea what I’m doing with her, she has no realistic plan for her life, and time, at my age, is of the essence.
So I think my Dad has dementia. To be continued…