Dateland: My Role Models


I’m writing this in a hospital. My mother and I are waiting for my father to come out of surgery. He needs surgery because he injured himself while chopping down a tree yesterday. My father is 81-years-old. Why was an 81-year-old chopping down a tree? According to my mother, he’s trying to kill himself in order to get out of attending their 50th anniversary party.

Before he was wheeled into surgery, a nurse gave him a pile of papers to sign.

“What’s this?” my mother said, grabbing a document out of the stack.

“It’s a DNR. It means that we will take no heroic measures to resuscitate your husband if he should stop breathing,” the nurse explained.  My father happily grabbed the paper and prepared to sign it.

“Not so fast,” my mother said, snatching the paper from him. “We’re not signing that. You WILL be resuscitated because you ARE going to that party. Even if I have to wheel you there in an iron lung. We’ll use you as the centerpiece.”

This has been the central theme of my parents’ marriage: my mother tells my dad what to do, and my father goes to extremes to defy her.

For all my ex-girlfriends who bitterly demand an explanation as to why I am the way I am, I present my parents as Exhibit A. These people are my relationship role models.

In many ways, my parents are a complete mismatch. My mother is highly social; loves parties, people, and fashion; can talk and shop for hours without respite; and enjoys nothing more than bullying her loved ones into submission. By contrast, my father loves only food, golf, and driving his children to and from the airport. He regularly disappears during the middle of parties without explanation and puts himself to bed.  Only to be awakened rudely when my mother turns on the lights and demands that he return to his guests.

My mother was engaged three times before finally settling on my father. When I asked why she chose him over her other suitors, she said: “I knew he’d be a worthy opponent, and he has been. We’ve been fighting for 50 years and neither of us has won yet.”

The one thing that my parents have in common is their love of a good fight. They bicker over everything, no matter how mundane. They take opposing positions even if there is no position to take. Once they had a long screaming match over whether Jodie Foster should be allowed to make a movie about Leni Riefenstahl, and only paused momentarily when I pointed out that they were in total agreement on the issue. So, they shifted gears and found a new and equally stupid topic to argue about

What I learned from growing up in a battle zone is that it’s kind of fun. You shout a lot, wave your arms around, threaten to kill each other, and then get on with your day. There can never be any grudges or hard feelings when you are constantly vomiting out every emotion the moment you feel it. My parents are war buddies. Granted, they fought for opposing countries, but they lived through it together and have a reluctant but healthy respect for each other.

My mom and I were at my dad’s bedside following surgery.

“Am I alive?” he asked, still dopey from drugs.

“Yep! Sorry to disappoint you,” my mother said, merrily. She pulled a pad of paper from her purse and began reading off his to-do list for the 50th anniversary party.

“Pull the plug,” my father pleaded to me. The only plug I could find was connected to a fan, so I yanked it from the wall.

“Plug that back in!” my mother demanded. And that touched off an hour-long debate between my parents over whether the room was too stuffy.

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