My father’s arms are crossed, his shoulders erect. His 6 foot 4 inch body towers over the kitchen counter that creates a barrier between him and us.
“Dad, this is Connor.”
They don’t shake hands.
I had spent the last hour and a half chewing my fingernails as we drove from New Paltz to Albany. I called my dad on the highway to tell him I was bringing someone home. All he said was, “Oh.”
I didn’t even want to go into the fact that Connor wasn’t Jewish.
“Hi, Mr. Strumfeld.” Connor notices me staring at him. “Err, I mean doctor…Dr. Strumfeld.”
My father’s lips are pursed, like the time he caught me with weed by the hot tub. I notice the photo from my Bat Mitzvah above the sink; my father’s arm is around me and he is smiling.
“Connor’s an English major, too,” I say to fill the silence. “We met in Creative Writing.”
The kitchen is hot. Connor pushes up his sleeve, revealing the outline of ink near his elbow.
“You have a tattoo?” I had forgotten how low my father’s voice was.
“Oh, I have two. This is from my favorite book, The Little Prince. And this,” he pulls up his other sleeve, “means ‘Stay Positive.’”
That’s it. We’re done for.
“I’ll be right back,” I say, walking to the bathroom. I try to throw up. Nothing comes out.
I come back to the kitchen. Connor is looking down at the hardwood floors. The refrigerator had leaked earlier in the week and the wood had started to warp.
“You know, I saw floors just like this in New Orleans,” Connor says.
“Vacationing down there?” my father asks.
“No, I went down a few months after Katrina to help rebuild homes. I had to tear up some floors that looked like this.”
I look at my father. He seems interested.
“Yeah. It was definitely hard work – hot too, like 115 degrees every day. But it felt good getting in with my hands,” Connor says.
My father uncrosses his arms, finally.
Our friend beeps his car horn in the driveway.
“It was nice meeting you, Mr. – err – Dr. Strumfeld.” They shake hands, and we leave.
I drink whiskey in the park across from the Capitol Building.
“Your dad was a little cold. Is he always like that?”
Later, I’m too nervous to sleep at home. Connor and I squeeze together on a friend’s couch as I watch the ceiling all night and think about my father. I wonder if I’ll ever impress him.
Two weeks later he calls me to invite Connor for Thanksgiving.
“I’m really happy for you, Zan. Connor seems really great.”
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