My father was not what one would ordinarily consider to be an intellectual, but like most intellectuals he had resources of character that manifested themselves in his elusiveness. He was brash, or perhaps simply foolish, an untested young man -- a man-boy -- who walked out of high school in the middle of the tenth-grade, and found no one following him. No one quit Central High School in the tenth grade. It was a school for academically-talented boys, boys who were college bound. He was a selfish man. A selfish and elusive man. Or maybe no, merely so physically rude that he appeared selfish. Whatever he did had such personal force that it seemed offensive. Like sticking his tongue out to examine it in the mirror. Like shaving in front of me, talking all the while, while my eyes followed his razor through the thin spread of brushless cream. And when he was through, his jaw was as blue as before. That was offensive. That was selfishness of a profound sort. Yet he was also elusive. He kept his razor clean. It always looked unused. He never left blotches of gloppy shaving cream in the sink. He never left the shower faucet dripping. He never left towels wadded up. You never knew he'd been there. He had a way of being both conspicuous and inconspicuous. He was both obscure and preeminently visible -- how beautiful that is to contemplate. His breathing was noisy. Bending over the television or adjusting the thermostat, or reaching down to retrieve a section of the newspaper from the floor, you could hear the concentration of turning or reaching in his release of breath, as if assuring himself that he was working hard and that something considerable was at stake.
He didn't accept me for a long time as a child. I had blond hair like a goy. Golden blond, fine hair. My sister was dark, her pure black hair a source of pride to my father. In retrospect I would say that my father was ashamed of me, of my goyisheh hair, my goyisheh reticence, my goyisheh passivity. He found it odd that he was my father. Why would I think that if it wasn't so? When I was a boy I myself questioned my paternity. Could this man really be my father? This old Jewish man, so many years older than my blond, goyisheh mother. It all seems so silly now. How could this man not be my father? He seemed to study his son like a psychologist through a pane of glass. My father perpetuated our apartness, my sense of otherness. He didn't understand what I meant when I flirted with him like a woman, the way a shy girl flirts with her first crush. Do boys flirt with their fathers -- passively, obscurely? He didn't understand my angers, or what I wanted when I pleased him. With his legs crossed at the knees and his large rude eyes magnified by his glasses. With his bald head, that ancient bald head that, to a seven-year-old, resembled President Eisenhower's.
But this describes just a moment's oversensitive perception by the little criminal of perception. He was never warm and affectionate. He was my secret, elusive lover. A powerful and furious presence in my life. Like Jehovah. I feared him as if he were an angry, wrathful God. What I remember is the lectures. He wanted me to grow up with a sense of my Jewishness. He wrestled my mother for my soul. He worked on me to counteract the bad influences of my mother, with her Christian notions and Christmas decorations. That was our relationship -- my relationship with my father -- his teaching me to have a sense of myself as a Jew.