It was January 2005 and we were celebrating my sister’s birthday in my Upper West Side apartment with my father and his new wife. We were ordering sushi for dinner and as we were discussing who would have salmon or tuna, my father looked over at my sister and me, and with a smirk on his face said, “Natasha can’t have raw fish.”
My sister, never having been pregnant didn’t realize this subtle announcement which bludgeoned me in the stomach and released a ball of heat which slowly spread lava all over my insides. “Why can’t she?” my sister retaliated, insinuating Natasha’s sense of taste wasn’t developed enough for raw fish.
“Is she pregnant?” I asked my father, rather than directing the question at the possibly gestating woman.
“Yes!” My father beamed, proud of his 57-year-old sperm. Within minutes, they were gushing over how easy they had gotten pregnant – “One shot! I’ve still got it!” My dad said, invisibly flexing his dick.
My sister and I stared at one another, widening our eyes. “The hot feeling” was rising up, taking over me. As if split from the same gene, my sister says, “I’m so hot right now. Can you turn down the heat?” I began to pull my tights off under my jeans.
I was grossly immature then and I’m not sure if I evolved much in ten year’s time. Was I behaving no differently than a 5-year-old jealous sibling hearing they were getting another baby? Instead of jealous of a newborn, I am now jealous of a ten-year-old thrust into this awkward Russian-Jewish immigrant version of Modern Family. My half-brother, Alex, is Joe (Jay and Gloria’s baby), I’m Claire, the uptight daughter who married a clown, my father is absolutely Ed O’Neill’s Jay and his wife, and my step mom, 4 years my junior and 30 years my father’s, is the Ukrainian Sofia Vergara.
This time around, my dad and I were parents together, only he was behaving as the passive parent. He explained how he went into this adventure with the attitude, “This is her baby. I’m doing this for her and she said she would do all the work! All she wanted from me was my Grade-A sperm. Besides, if I don’t she will leave me and find someone else. She’s still young.”
Natasha fed the baby and changed the baby and of course my father fell head over heels in love with his first son and I witnessed him transform into a father who behaved nothing like the one who raised me.
My father was the “strong Russian fatherly” type who threatened to “bury my sister and me in the backyard if we ever did drugs.” He drank vodka and drove with us in the backseat. My insensitive father called the teenage me a cow, slapping me in the head with the back of his hand if I blocked the TV. My father made us afraid to tell him if we got hurt because his way of handling a crisis was to find faults and seek blame.
As a father in his sixties, he mellowed. He is a grandpa-dad. He yells at Natasha as she helicopters over Alex at the playground; at ten, she still wipes his ass but he yells at her when Alex doesn’t answer a question properly. If Alex embarrasses my father, he overcompensates by telling me about his minuscule accomplishments as if he is a piano prodigy, a tennis pro, a mathematics whiz!
On one hand, Alex got the kinder, gentler, more forgiving father. Or else maybe, on the other hand, he just got one who was more apathetic.
Natasha often talks about how much my father gushed about his daughters when he was courting her in Russia. In fact, she says this was one of his golden traits which made her fall in love with him, back when she was a fatherless Ukrainian 19-year-old girl and he was a 49-year-old American man. Like a peacock with his feathers on display, my father held up pictures of my sister and me, bragging about our all-American successes. I always knew my father loved me, but I also never thought I lived up to his expectations – or to my potential.
He expected so much from me when I was a teenager he made me a bet I would make $100K by the time I was 25 years old. I lost the bet, although I came close, making about $70K (plus shares in a company which would sell for more). Instead by 25, I had gotten my first tattoo and had just gotten back together with my boyfriend after having been caught cheating. My father was disappointed in that too. Not because I had cheated, but because I got caught! Hadn’t he taught me anything?
Every year on Father’s Day, it gets more and more awkward in this multigenerational Hallmark holiday quagmire. I feel like a distant cousin or some relative from another life, who used to have close ties but have long since moved apart, embarking on vastly different trajectories. Sometimes the most painful part isn’t that he isn’t supportive or vocal about his emotions, but his complacency with it all. He has this amazing daughter and world’s greatest grandchildren 30 minutes away and we see each other only a few times a year. He doesn’t invite us over unless it’s a special occasion.
I know I’m too hard on my dad, but isn’t that the perfect irony? I learned my impossibly high expectations from him. As I’ve gotten older, I resemble him more and more; the wrinkles around my eyes mimicking his, the creases in the forehead, the wide smile, the muscular arms. Beyond that, I have inherited his will power, his inability to forgive, his pridefulness, and his desire to do everything so perfectly no outcome is good enough.
A father-daughter bond can be magical. My father was the first male I’d love, admire, look up to and often emulate. Through my writing project this year, I have dug back into assorted issues of our relationship and the hurtful actions of our history. Even though time and distance tend to heal and dull pain, I found the opposite. I’m angrier now that I am grown and see him without the rose colored glasses daughters wear when they look at their daddies.