Once my father moved to Utah, he was the only relative within driving distance. After a few years and a lot of therapy, I actually made the trip. It wasn’t so bad. We talked a little. I got a better understanding of his own childhood, the parents who had shaped him, and his issues. I didn’t know if I could ever fully forgive him for a less-than pleasant childhood, or for constantly putting all his wives ahead of his children. But I had to give the man credit for at least trying to connect.
Dad occasionally initiated phone calls and extended more invitations to visit. Each visit was a little better (money spent on therapy is money well spent). Sometimes I brought a friend or boyfriend with me. My father’s town was small, but his house was large, and the mountains were pretty and quiet.
Eventually, I brought Andy. He made dinner one night. Current Stepmom seemed to like dinner and like Andy. There was just one problem.
My father kept calling Andy by the wrong name.
Even worse, it was the name of my last ex-boyfriend before Andy – Ethan. Andy and Ethan had once been friends. They weren’t friends anymore. But that’s another post.
Ethan was also Asian-American and he had been one of the guys I once brought to Utah. Apparently Ethan made an impression on my dad. I corrected my father the first time he called Andy Ethan. My dad apologized. No biggie.
We went out to dinner the second night of our trip. The conversation went like this:
Dad: “What will you be having, Ethan?”
Andy: “I have no idea what Ethan will be having, but I’m thinking about the surf and turf.”
Dad looked around blankly.
Me: “You did it again, Dad. His name is ANDY.”
Dad: “Oh. Sorry. I don’t know why I’m doing that.”
The waiter arrived. He took our order. Conversation resumed. A few minutes later:
Dad: “So I know your job is top secret, Ethan –”
Current Stepmom: “You mean Andy, dear.”
Dad: “Yes, of course, sorry, Andy.”
Andy (graciously): “It’s okay.” It wasn’t. Andy hated Ethan.
I asked Current Stepmom about her voice students and the opera. We got through another few minutes of conversation. My dad excused himself. Current Stepmom flagged down the waiter and ordered another cocktail.
Andy whispered: “Is your dad messing with me on purpose? Is this his way of saying he liked Ethan or something?”
Me: “He’s not subtle enough to manage that. Promise.”
Andy: “You think this is subtle?”
My dad returned. We continued talking about Current Stepmom’s opera. My dad, though, was still fixated on Andy’s job. The minute conversation lagged, he turned back to Andy.
Dad: “I know you can’t tell us much about your work, Ethan, but –”
Me: “OH MY GOD! DAD! It’s ANDY.”
Current Stepmother put her head in her hand. My dad turned red. Andy unclenched his teeth long enough to take a big swallow of beer.
Me: “Let’s just not use names for the rest of the evening, okay? ‘Hey, you,’ will work just fine.”
Dad: “I’m really sorry, Ethan—”
Me: “Gah!” That was it. I stood up, reached over, slapped my father on the hand, and hissed, “Goddamn it, his name is ANDY!”
Now, I got my share of spankings as a kid (and more). But that night, our roles were reversed. After I smacked his hand, my dad sat back, shamefaced. I sat down, and my dad said, “I don’t know why I keep doing that. I didn’t even like Ethan.”
Our server, followed by the restaurant manager, cautiously approached our table. “Is everything okay here?”
I looked around. Several neighboring tables of Mormon families (identifiable by their blonde hair and 4-5 kids less than a year apart) stared at us. Hard to say whether they were more offended by my swearing or the sight of a woman raising her hand against a male elder. My father assured the waiter that we were fine. The waiter looked at Andy for confirmation.
Andy gave the waiter a big smile. Too big. I realized that Andy was trying very, very hard not to laugh. All the tension had left his face. Probably the minute he heard my dad admit that he, too, did not like Ethan.
Andy said to the waiter, “Yeah, no worries. We’re fine.”
And we were.