I had lunch the other day with a friend of mine. Talk turned to fathers, and how similar our two fathers were. Her father was a worker and a golfer like mine. Work and golf and show up now and then to be a larger than life presence in the lives of their kids. Mine was a tough taskmaster whom I didn’t appreciate until long after he no longer had any influence on me. We both acknowledged the enormous influence of those men in our lives.
I told her that when I arrived back in New York City, fresh from the University of Nebraska hinterlands, my dad summoned me to his New York apartment, where he would hold court once every month or so when he had business in the city. He flew in like the Shah on his lear jet, and I still remember pushing the button to the floor of his apartment on the upper east side with a feeling of anxious hope that we would feel good after the visit was over. Both of us. I was still on the Parent Payroll, which in fairness to him I didn’t treat with much respect or regard. It just was. On this particular day, he informed me that he wanted me to enroll in Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School. I was shocked.
“Why, Dad, would I do that? I have no intention of being a secretary.” To be honest, I didn’t have much of an intention to be anything at all. Ah, to live those years over again. Seriously. It’s one of my largest regrets. Not searching for anything other than a man.
Dad replied, “Because, Christine, no matter what happens in life, you can always get a job as a secretary.”
“Well that may be Dad, but I’m not going.” I was so insulted. Insulted I tell you.
“If you do not go, then I will cut you off.”
“Frankly Dad,” I said with great bravado, having just finished Gone with the Wind, “I don’t give a damn.” I stood up with every ounce of unearned dignity that I could muster, and I walked out.
I was never on his payroll again. I also immediately found a job answering phones at Marymount Manhattan College. “Marymount Manhattan College, how may I direct your call?” That lasted a few days, until I simply took off the headphones and walked away from the switchboard, leaving an “I can’t do this job, but thank you” behind as I shut the door on my way out. I ended up at a financial management company, where my “clients” included Don Imus, who was in forced financial management for not paying taxes and used to yell at me on the air because the management firm wouldn’t give him all his money to spend on photography equipment, women, and drugs. Until the taxes were paid, he was on an allowance.
But I digress. The point is that I can say I have done all right for myself, and while I do not have a Katherine Gibbs certificate, I think I gained my independence, and a dose of reality that probably saved me from never really trying to earn my own way.
“Oh my God,” my friend said, after I had finished telling the story of my dad’s ultimatum. “My dad enrolled me in Katy Gibbs too!” (I guess if you’ve graduated from there you call it “Katy.”) But the difference between us is that she went. And she contends she is the better for it, having learned how to manage paperwork in a way her more artistic peers cannot do. I believe her. Six months at Katherine Gibbs would have changed my life, I’m sure. It would have put me on a different road, to somewhere else. Interesting to say the least.
And what do we have to offer our kids to guarantee them job skills now? There are more college graduates without jobs now than ever before in history. I recently went to look for the Katherine Gibbs School in New York City, and it’s closed. Doors shut. Like so many doors to the middle class, these days, there is no pathway to the doorway; just an infinite number of changing social media and Internet platforms with which to navigate to one dream or another.
I’m not sure what the point is for this blog entry. Roads less travelled? Safety nets for a secure future? Independence? Dependence? I just wanted to say that I understand now why my dad wanted me to have that in my tool box. My daughter’s tool box is ever so full of things that she can call out when she needs them as she travels the road to her future. More than me. It makes me feel good. And, so it goes.