Posts Tagged ‘father’


Thursday, June 7th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

There are certain moments in our troubled relationship I wish I could forget, but things don’t work that way. Still, I want to write a little about him – mostly good stuff – so if these Zest of Orange posts last a hundred years, people living in the year 2112 will know that Al Page existed, was a part of this world, was a father (maybe not the best) of a son (maybe not the best) and a husband (maybe not the best).

He was born Abraham Pedratchick in the East End of London in 1904, the seventh and final child of a pious member of the local synagogue. Al had a beautiful singing voice and here the story quickly gets complicated. The father was deeply religious, but Al was pretty much an atheist. The father was adamant that the son become a cantor. At the age of 17, Al fled to America and to a sister already here. He changed his name to Al Page. He never saw his father again, but the nature of that troubled relationship was to shape part of him for the rest of his life.

Never could one of his sons take Al out for dinner. My dad had to pay his own way, and for everyone else if he could. Nor could anyone buy him a gift. When we tried, nothing was the right size, or the right color, or the right anything. It’s important for a kid to buy his dad a gift. But it made Al uncomfortable to accept. Even when his music system crashed, and he could no longer listen to his favorite Mozart and Brahms, and I offered to replace it, he would not hear of it. He would buy his own things. But he never bought a new stereo.

“What is with you?” I finally asked, and it turned out that his father had loaned him $50 for the voyage to New York and Dad didn’t repay it. He worked like a dog but never had enough to make even a partial payment, and this haunted him for the rest of his life. “No time did I have it,” he said quietly on the grass of the care facility where he was living with my mother after they lost everything to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. He died one year later.

When he arrived in New York in 1921, he took any work he could find. One of his earliest jobs was as an unskilled laborer painting the hulls of ships at dry dock on Staten Island. He used to take a banana and a bag of peanuts with him every day for lunch. Sometimes he couldn’t afford the banana.

Later he worked at a loan outfit and he said something complimentary about the hat that nifty girl was wearing. That was my mother, who’d recently ended a bad marriage.

They went out, had a good time. They got married. This was 1930, the Great Depression. The courtship may have been good. The marriage was not. They fought a lot, often about money. Throughout their years together, she said some really bad things to him. He responded, and said some pretty ugly things about her parents, my grandparents. Maybe he didn’t understand that you don’t insult your own kid’s grandpa. But how could you not understand that? He was not educated, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. Somehow they stayed together for 63 years. Maybe it wasn’t as terrible as I remember. Maybe each was getting something out of it, though once when I was about 8 my mother posed the devastating question: If Daddy and I broke up, who would you want to go with?

He and I had our moments. From adjoining beds – we both had flu – we watched the Dodgers lose that playoff series with the Giants in 1951. I was grief stricken and he rescued me with the magic words known by every Brooklyn fan: Wait until next year. He was gentle in offering advice about school and what I might choose to do with my life. And often he was harshly critical when he perceived my lousy grades as a rebuke to his advice.

Twice he offered some off-the-wall advice on sex. When I was about 12 he handed me a booklet and said “Read this.” Then he walked away. It was complicated and filled with bizarre illustrations and unpronounceable words that I’m sure Dr. Kinsey himself wouldn’t have understood. Years later when I was headed to Fort Dix for basic training, he told me to always be careful because some of the women around Army bases were there to get pregnant and snare a husband. Uh, that’s not why they were there.

In the Sixties he didn’t like the way I looked – the beard, especially – and told me so at every occasion. It boiled over one morning when I left to do some work at the library in New York. I walked out. Then I changed my mind and went back. You could hear the shouting in Canarsie. I moved out soon after that.

One more conversation would have been nice. There was so much to talk about.