After decades of estrangement from her ultra-competitive parent, an email arrived: she was a woman. Could they rebuild their relationship?
One afternoon, working at home in Portland, Oregon, I took a violate to check my email and observed a new message 😛 TAGEND
To: Susan C Faludi
Date: 7/7/ 2004
It was from my father. Dear Susan, it began, Ive got some interesting news for you. I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.
Attached was a series of snapshots. In the first, my 76 -year-old father is standing in a hospital lobby in a sheer, sleeveless chemise and red skirt. The caption read: I seem tired after the surgery. In another, taken before the surgery, my father is perched amid a copse of trees, modelling a henna wig with bangs and a pale ruffled blouse. The caption read, Stefnie in Vienna garden. The email was signed, Love from your parent, Stefnie.
My father and I had scarcely spoken in a quarter-century. As small children, I had resented and, afterwards, feared him, and when I was a teenager he had left the family or, rather, been forced to leave by the police after a season of escalating violence. Despite our long estrangement, I thought I understood enough of his character to have had some inkling of an inclination this profound. I had none.
As a child, in the suburban town of Yorktown Heights, an hours drive north of Manhattan, I had always known my father to assert the male privilege. He had seemed invested insistently, inflexibly in being the household despot. We feed what he wanted to eat, travelled where he wanted to go, wore what he wanted us to wear. There was no escape.
Early one August morning when I was 14, I was lacing my sneakers in the front corridor, preparing for a run( Id joined the junior varsity daughters track team ), when I sensed a subtle atmospheric change, like the drop in barometric pressure as a cold front approaches, which signalled to my aggrieved adolescent mind the arrival of my father. His pale, thin frame originating from the gloomines at the bending of the stairs. He was wearing jogging shorts and tennis sneakers. I am running also, he said, his thick Hungarian accent stretching out the first syllable: aaaalso . It was an insistence , not an offer. I pushed through the screen door, my father shadowing my heels. The air was fat with humidity. Tar bubbles blistered the blacktop.
By the pond, we picked up a narrow footpath. We operated without speaking, single file. Minutes into the ascending, he picked up his pace. So did I. He pulled ahead, then I did. We both gasped for breath. My belly was heaving and my vision had blurred. My father transgressed into a furious step. I tried to match it. It was, after all, the early 1970 s; I Am Woman( Hear Me Roar ) played on the mental soundtrack of my morning jog. But neither my fervor for womens lib nor my youth nor all my educate could compete with his determination.
Something about my father became palpable in that moment, but what? Was I witnessing raw aggressivenes or a performance of it? Was he vying with his daughter or outracing someone, or something, else? These werent questions Id have formulated that morning. At the time, I was trying not to upchuck. But I remember the gues, troubling to my budding feminism, that flickered through my intellect: its easier to be a woman.
And with it, I let my legs slow. My parents back receded down the road.
In September 2004, two months after receiving my fathers email, I boarded a plane to Hungary. In my luggage were a tape recorder, a jumbo pack of AA batteries, two dozen microcassettes, a stack of reporters notebooks and a single-spaced 10 -page list of questions. She had asked me to write her story.
I was setting out to investigate someone I scarcely knew. I was largely ignorant of the life my father had led since my parents divorce in 1977, when hed moved to a loft in Manhattan that doubled as his commercial photographers studio, and subsequently repatriated to Hungary. Since then, I had seen him only occasionally, once at a graduation, again at a family marriage, and once when he was passing through the west coast.
In the arrivals hall at Budapest Ferihegy international airport, I reluctantly scanned the faces. Perhaps she wouldnt be here. Perhaps I could turn around and fly home. Salutations in two genders were gridlocked on my tongue. I wasnt sure I was ready to release him to a new identity; she hadnt explained the old one. I can manage a change in pronoun, I believed, but paternity? Whoever she was now, she was, as she had said to me on the phone, still your father.
I spotted a familiar profile with a high forehead and narrow shoulders. Her hair appeared thicker than I remembered his, and lighter in colour, a henna-red. She was wearing a red cabled sweater, grey flannel skirt, white heels and a pair of pearl stud earrings.
Waaall, my father said, as I came to a stop in front of her. We exchanged an awkward hug. Her breasts 48 C, she would afterwards inform me poked into mine. Rigid, they seemed less bosom than battlement, and I wondered at my own inflexibility. Barely off the plane, I was already rendering judgment. As if there werent plenty of real women walking around with silicone in their breasts. Since when had I become the essentialist?
She resulted the way to the car park. I trailed behind, watching uncomfortably the people watching us. The dissonance between white heels and male-pattern baldness was drawing notice. Some double-chinned matrons gave my father the up-and-down. One set out in her tracks and muttered something. I didnt understand the words, but I got the intent. When her gaze shifted to me, I glared back. Fuck off, you old biddy, I thought.
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