When I was in Junior High everyone knew that Franky Giblon’s father used to climb onto the ice during his son's hockey games and scream constructive criticism at him. Some families just work that way.
The words agree to disagree have never passed my father’s lips. Since we disagree about pretty much everything - how I raise my kids, whether I play tennis or not, how my front door wobbles, what I wear, what I believe, whether every person on the planet is purely self-serving - it makes for a lot of disagreeable yelling.
Many WASP friends tell me there was no yelling in their childhood homes. I know they’re not lying, but I find that astounding.
I grew up in a house full of yelling. “I’ll have some peas” or “I think I saw the scissors in the other room” passed among us at a conventional volume. But any hint of discrepancy in opinion jacked it up. On the sound meter my father moves from 0 – 400 decibels, in five seconds. He should be in the Guinness Book of World Records under rate of sonic escalation (although I’m not sure it’s a category. Yet.)
In my family, if you don’t pump up the volume, you don’t get heard. And for some reason getting heard or, more commonly, the illusion of it, while it rarely changes the outcome of an argument, still feels important. But it’s never a fair fight. Despite my life-long desire and thoughtful articulation, the 80 year-old patriarch always wins by yelling loud and pulling rank. The words, the nuance, the point, are all swallowed in noise.
So I try to veer away when I see my dad swerving towards a fight. But he’s a bit of a heat-seeking missile. If he’s looking for it, he gets it.
“Do you write every day? all day every day?” he asked the other morning.
“Not when I’m talking to you I don’t, but mostly I do.”
“Nothing’s happening Aviv. You’ve got to send your stuff out.”
“I know Dad. I’m trying. I sent something out yesterday, a pitch for a piece I wrote about the Occupy Movement. I sent it to the Huffington Post.”
I knew the minute the word "Occupy" slipped out I should have held my tongue.
“Do you support that Occupy Movement? They’re a bunch of…”
“I don’t want to discuss the Occupy Movement that’s not what we’re talking about.”
“It’s such a waste, so stupid…” he slips in before I drag us back to the infinitely better topic of why the fuck nothing is happening with Aviva’s writing career. But I’m wondering a) he’s known me and my politics for decades and he still has to ask what I think about the Occupy Movement? and b) doesn’t he read my blog?
“We’re on the same team Aviv,” he says suddenly. What team is that?, I wonder. It’s not the lefty progressive team. It’s not the as-long-as-you’re-happy, unconditional love team. It must be the family team.
But no, it’s actually the we want Aviva to succeed team. Despite unending criticism of many things Aviv, he badly wants me to be successful at writing. We may have different definitions of success, his being more monetary and famous, but he’s rooting for me! He’s wearing the jersey, shaking the pom poms, yelling go Aviv, go! But if you know my dad you know that standing on the sidelines cheering, even in one of those special boxes with the free food and booze, is not a good enough spot. He needs to be on the field.
A few months ago he started throwing help my way. “Send me your 'Get' story Aviv.” (a piece about getting a Jewish divorce.). “I want to send it in to Commentary.”
“But I’m not interested in having my stuff published in Commentary.” My response triggers the look, the gearing-up-for-the-big-antisemitism-fight look. But then he shifts gears and takes another tact.
“Beggars can’t be choosers Aviv. Just let me try.”
Do I want to fight this battle? Further discussion about me and Commentary and our polar-opposite views of the world will end only in noise and bad feelings.
I’m almost certain that Commentary will never print a story about a lesbian going with her ex husband and her 18 month-old baby, whose dad is a gay man, to an Orthodox court of Rabbis. So I caved and sent my dad the piece.
I couldn’t help thinking of Franky Giblon.
Commentary never called.