We were on an airplane that had just landed somewhere, my mother, father, and I. I had been sitting next to a priest—between him, I think, and my mother. I was probably five or six.
Wait—I forgot to tell you that my mother was raised Catholic, in Milwaukee, and my father, Jewish, in Brooklyn. Oh, no—I did tell you that, a while ago, in the even sadder days. Anyway, as I stepped into the aisle of the airplane—stepped up to my father, who was standing there waiting for me—my mother said to me, “Say ‘Goodbye, Father.'” Meaning, say goodbye to the priest. So I did. I said, “Goodbye, Father,” and my own father laughed. That is, he laughed derisively—sort of scoffed, or sniggered.
This is an odd memory, and there was a time that I thought about it so much that the memory of the memory is more vivid than the incident itself. I felt humiliated in a number of ways, though I was just a little girl. I felt like I had been caught by my father being stupid: using words that had meanings I couldn’t know, but should have known.
It was about him, right? Maybe it was about him and my mother and their differences. Probably, for him, it was about being Jewish, somehow. How could I not know the true meaning of this? How could I not know, in some deeper way, my own father? (Ladies and gents with real live daddys: know them, if you can. Just to have known him for a little while longer; just to have been a little older.) There was contempt there; that’s what I remember. It made a tiny part of me, like the wind against the sand.
Tonight I’m going to sit with it for a few minutes, and look at it. Goodbye, Father. Goodbye, father. Goodbye.