Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Doctors and Teachers and Waiters, Oh My

My father saves the best performances for the true authorities in his life: doctors, teachers and waiters.

Doctors are by far his favorites. I was a "sickly" child, with "bad lungs," so at the first sign of a cold he'd take me to the doctor. In the waiting room he was broody and silent. I used to think that it was because he was so "worried." But now I reckon he was rehearsing his performance in his head.

Because, see, when he entered that office, his face would light up. He became electrified, energized, eloquent. He'd take out temperature charts. He'd throw around medical words and phrases. He'd flatter the doctors in Byzantine terms that made my skin crawl. The doctors were all women, and some of the flattery verged on inappropriate.

He treated me as a doll. I wasn't allowed a voice, he gave me one. The doctor would ask me:

- So, how are you feeling?

- (I open my mouth)

- Well, she has a mild fever and her eyes are watery.

- (I close my mouth)

Once, he bought me a book on puberty, which was in itself sweet, if slightly awkward. But he couldn't just give it to me. Nooo, he formally presented me with it IN FRONT OF THE DOCTOR and then went on and on and on to her about how he wants to hide nothing from me, how he wants me to have the necessary information, how he's an involved father, fishing for compliments from her.

I think I've barely had a cold since then. If I did, I hid it really well.

Then the teachers. He was on the school board. He went on a school trip with my class and never even told me in advance. We visited my teacher at his home once, when I was in the 4th grade, but my father wasn't interested in pursuing the relationship because the teacher "wasn't really all that smart."

Later on, I did my best to keep him away. I told him his behavior was embarrassing. I was vague when talking about school. I'd even forget to tell him about parent-teacher meetings (I honestly forgot, but what would Freud make of it? So many accidental omissions? Riiight).

But he never fully accepted defeat. I recently found a copy of a letter he sent, behind my back, to a teacher of mine when I was 16. The nauseating combination of extreme flattery and extreme bragging still haunts me.

After I got married and he'd discarded me (visiting when I was 8 moths pregnant and then for my daughter's first birthday, and even then after having his arm twisted), he said he wanted to come to my M.Phil. thesis defense. I didn't know about NPD back then, so I was taken by surprise. He was there, again electrified, energized, eloquent. He talked to all the professors. He bragged about me. Talked about me in the third person although I was right there. I didn't even mind much. I guess I couldn't help feeling happy to be again somehow worthy of his love and attention.

But the waiters! That's got to be the worst! With doctors and teachers, it's embarrassing and nauseating enough, for sure, but with them, he doesn't have the air of condescension that he keeps for his dealings with waiters. Whenever we enter a restaurant, he picks a "special" waiter as his audience, usually a more mature, experienced man. Then he'll start his speeches and tirades. He'll tell the waiter where he's been and where he's planning to go that day. It usually involves bragging, as he's just been to the theater, you know, to see his niece, who's a ballerina. So he's cultured and he has a talented niece. Then he'll flatter the waiter, but in a way that makes it clear just how superior he is and just how much the waiter should be grateful for my father's attention. There will be teasing and little jokes at the waiter's expense. There will be calling the waiter "MY Firstname."

The waiter, I've noticed, usually just looks bored and annoyed. I guess they've seen it all. They have to handle all sorts and they do.

But then my father DOESN'T EVEN LEAVE A TIP.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I encourage comments!!!