You ever wake up at 4:19 AM and say to yourself: “I can’t believe it’s going to be another two-and-half-months before I can even start expecting to hear back from the Federal Republic of Germany about my application for restored citizenship?”
You ever look at your 7 ½ year old living his life?
You ever watch him practice the moonwalk, try out a card trick, giggle uncontrollably while making underarm farts, eat a chocolate-covered frozen banana, ask you to explain who invented Halloween?
Do you ever think about the fact that he is the exact same age you were when the big things of your life started to happen?
Right now, right this very second, everything is happening for your child. He is an open channel of creativity and sensory experiences. He is a memory sponge. These are the moments of his life, just like a Kodak commercial.
Oh, will you look at that!
I just happen to have a Kodak snapshot right here!
My father at the dining room table in his apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1975. I am five-something years old.
Here’s my father, engaged with me, counseling me on something I’m writing.
I have no recollection of this moment whatsoever, of course. But I was a red-blooded, card-carrying second-grade memory-sponge (and so were you). It’s in there.
What I do remember is what it felt like to be scared of my father. The adrenaline rush of knowing that I had to get out of there. Walking into the bedroom to call my mother. That’s a dramatic moment for a girl, one she might be driven to re-create just once or twice. But as we all know, in between the Big Dramas of Life there’s just life. You drink a chocolate milk. You sing the pop song at the top of your lungs with the words wrong. You get new sneakers.
In other words, so then what happened?
What was it like to live that slow fade day after day?
Did I ever ask my mother: “When am I going to see Daddy again?”
Even though he frightened me, did I ever wish I could see him again?
Did I miss him?
Did I wonder if he missed me?
How did I go from the wondering about my father to never mentioning him again?
Did it all happen at once? (Snip! The Nazis with their stainless shears!) Or was it a slow fade? (My grandfather watches Europe recede on a horizon the color of porcelain as the S.S. Statendam churns towards New York City.)
I want to know. When did I start writing the “I don’t have a father” story?
You ever wake up at 4:19 AM and it’s like: Oh my God! It’s themes, people, themes! Severing! Denial! Rejection and armor! They left Germany, he left me, I left myself! The Holocaust plus Columbia College’s English department circa 1959 multiplied by LSD and divided by divorce equals my personality! Soundtrack Simon & Garfunkel, early Beatles and Erik Satie! Liev Schrieber as Henry Ebel!
Are you ever like: Okay, I get it. Can I go now?
Here’s the pitch I was working on in 1975:
Smile. You’re on Candid Camera.