We had received the invitation and mom checked the calendar. Because of a previous commitment she would not be able to attend the Parent/Student dinner that year – but dad would be in town and he would take me.
The dinner was, in essence, a school fund raiser but it was one of the school’s major events of the year and not attending would have been inappropriate. We sent in our response and our check and dad and I were all set to attend a few weeks later.
The night of the dinner dad and I dressed in our finest to make sure that we were appropriately attired. We got to the dinner right on time, our tickets in hand with our seating arrangements appropriately noted on our tickets. The school seated people together whom they thought would enjoy each others company and who would have something in common to discuss. Boy did they goof!
Dad was a simple person. He had more interest in reading a Zane Grey novel than in knowing who was doing whom or what in Hollywood. In this respect he was different from mom who felt more of a need to keep abreast of the news and the glamorous people that were momentarily enjoying fame. Many of those wandered through the doors of her Madison Avenue store.
So there we were in my school’s auditorium. Dad was going to be seated next to a celebrity – and had no concept whatever who this man was. It happened that this was the auditorium where my school orchestra gave its performances. As I sensed the tragedy that was about to unfold I could hear an invisible orchestra begin the quiet opening measures of Ravel’s “Bolero.”
I wanted to help my father out of the inevitable consequences of his reading too many western novels and spending too little time reading the gossip magazines. I wanted to let him know who it was that he was going to be seated next to – but unfortunately this dinner companion arrived before I had the chance to accomplish my mission.
In the background, I heard the Bolero increase in intensity.
I tugged frantically at my father’s suit jacket, hoping to bring him up to speed. He was speaking with a man who was not only a Broadway producer but who had his own talk show on television. (I knew dad was clueless). I have only decided to withhold this person’s name as it is not nice to speak ill of the deceased.
The celeb introduced himself by name – expecting a gratuitous, “Wow” or some equivalent. He asked my dad what he did for a living. Dad explained his business to this man.
The Bolero had reached its loudest moment as the invisible orchestra continued playing.
And then it came. The ultimate faux pas – one which I considered so grave that I seriously considered never returning to my grammar school because of the embarrassment of the question I could sense was about to protrude from my father’s lips. And then he delivered it.
“And what do you do for a living?”
That was the final conversation these two men had as the dinner bell rang and we sat down to eat. I think that my face was red throughout the meal. I had the dumbest dad in the world. I was truly ashamed of him.
Over the course of many years I have replayed that evening countless times. I remember my anguish at realizing that I had a dumb dad. And as the years passed I realized that dad wasn’t that dumb – but my reaction to his ignorance was. And most of all, I realized that the celebrity who needed no acclamation other than his Nielsen ratings and Broadway successes was the dumbest of the three of us.
I hope that if I am ever really successful I never forget my simple beginnings. And I hope that my simple beginnings will allow me a success that transcends what we consider to be fame.