When I was little, my dad would tell the best bedtime stories. The stories were each drastically different but the moral was always the same. The fun part was seeing how he was going to get there each time.
Was the moral about family values? Respecting your elders? An important life lesson?
Every one of my dad's stories ended with:
"And the moral of the story is… you can find everything you need at Waldbaums."
(Waldbaums was the local supermarket closest to our house. I guess the modern day equivalent would be Target.)
It's hard to describe how much joy this moral or the stories that led up to it gave me, but eventually, my dad and I would say the moral in unison, both crack up and then I'd finally go to sleep.
My parents got divorced when I was ten and besides his bedtime stories, there is honestly not a lot I remember about the time my dad spent living in our house in the suburbs of Long Island. Most of my childhood memories of my dad are after he moved into a loft in downtown Manhattan that my sister and I would visit every other weekend.
I mean, how could that not create a huge impression?
My dad had a permanent parking spot in a small alley between two buildings in the East Village in the '80s. His apartment was a big open space, with a skinny white entranceway that was so long we used to ride our bikes up and down it. There was a great view of the Con Ed building (that's the one with the lit-up colored clock) front and center in his living room window. There was a stairway off an open kitchen that led to a small loft space where my sister and I used to sleep. You couldn't stand up in there but it was fully carpeted with an elevated platform and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
Actually, I'm mixing up two apartments. I think the loft was in one space and the long entranceway was in another. One of the ways my dad made a living back then was renovating apartments and flipping them, so we cycled through many different places in downtown NYC. The spaces were minimally decorated (my dad thought of the apartments as more of a business than as homes) and when he swapped, it would often include the furniture. I remember one swap gave him the weirdest set of the most uncomfortable chairs. Years later, I saw them in a museum in Copenhagan. If only my father had held onto them.
You're probably thinking that on these visits, my dad filled us with all the art and culture New York City has to offer. Fine art at the Met, the ballet at Lincoln Center, Shakespeare in the Park.
But we did none of that.
My dad let us choose what we wanted to do and that included four things only— getting toasted buttered bagels at the corner bodega, eating at Pizzeria Uno, visiting the Cabbage Patch Kids Museum and riding up and down the glass elevators in the middle of the Marriot Marquis in Times Square. You gotta appreciate a guy who would stand on a ridiculously long line to get into the Cabbage Patch Kids Museum multiple weekends in a row, when really it was just an elaborate set-up to get you into the Cabbage Patch Kids Store.
At some point growing up, going to the city to visit my dad became less exciting and more of a chore. In high school, I didn't want to leave my friends to spend time with my father and he didn't want to force me to come, so we agreed I could stay at home. When he came to Long Island to take us out for dinner (our Wednesday night ritual), we made it quick because I had homework to do. When he called to talk to my sister and me on the phone, we half listened while we watched television.
To my dad's credit, he never stopped calling.
It wasn't until after I graduated college that I started to see my dad (and my new stepmother) on a semi-regular basis again. I moved into the city and their apartment had a washing machine.
On 9/11, he was the person I ran to when I found myself in the West Village, halfway between home and the office, by myself with no cell reception. Then I crashed in their spare bedroom for a month because I didn't want to go back to my own place.
In 2005, my dad bought an apartment in my building. I was single at the time and wanted to kill him for invading my space. But eventually, I came to love that he was just upstairs. I would call him whenever I didn't have plans, go up there for dinner (always Chinese take-out) or to watch LOST since we both followed it religiously. It felt like our relationship had come full circle and now we were living under the same roof once again.
Mike entered my life the following year and luckily, he enjoyed the comical run-ins with my father in the elevator. They hit it off immediately.
When Mazzy was born, my dad (now Poppy) made a habit of visiting every morning before he went to work. In the beginning, we had all the time in the world for him, but once my maternity leave was over, he would often come right at that moment when everyone was trying to get out the door and our interaction would be rushed and apologetic. Regardless, I loved that he visited every day. It seemed both odd and wonderful that at this point in my life, my father would become such a regular fixture, and thus, a regular fixture for Mazzy as well.
Last year, he moved out of our building. Not far. But far enough so that we have to carve out real time to see one another again. With a three-year-old, a baby, a day job, the blog and everything else in my life, I haven't been very good at it. I mean to try harder and then another day passes that I forget to call him back or answer an email.
The other day I came home from work and my father was already there, playing with Mazzy. It was a Tuesday and I had forgotten he was trying to make Tuesdays a thing. Mike was working late that night, so my dad ordered us Chinese food while I put Mazzy and Harlow to bed.
The two of us sat across from eachother eating dinner, when Mazzy, still awake, called out from the bedroom with a small request.
"Tell me one of your stories, Poppy!"
She said it just like that. As though my dad had coached her to say it. Or like she was channeling me when I was little. I normally try not to respond to Mazzy's bedtime stalling techniques, but I looked at my dad's proud face and nodded at him to go.
I couldn't deny Mazzy one of Poppy's stories. And I couldn't deny my dad the chance to tell her one.
I hope one day she looks back at them as fondly as I do.
And I wonder if the moral will always be the same.