My father, “Pop”, as my bother and I called him, was more than a bit of a ham. For him any time was a good time to perform so as a young man he decided to try his hand as a Vaudeville song and dance man. Performing was in his blood and although success is never guaranteed he was destined to do something that afforded him the opportunity to “show off”. Vaudeville was where it began.
My paternal grandfather was a Russian immigrant who amassed a great fortune in the construction business. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, his cache was wiped out instantaneously. My father, like his 5 brothers had worked in my grandfather’s business at one time or another. When tragedy struck he left New York and headed for whatever opportunities he might discover in sunny Los Angeles. With no collateral but his broad smile and the gift of gab he managed to talk a bank manager into proffering a loan in the neighborhood of $2,000. A pretty ritzy neighborhood for that time. My dad used the money to open a club that catered to many celebrities of the day. For 11 years he partied to the hilt and after squandering his do re mi he returned to New York with nothing to show for the good times but his empty pockets. Not long after he returned he met my mother. Within a year of their courtship they married and a year and two months later my brother and I were a part of the equation. For awhile my Pop made a living selling storm windows door-to-door. Not an easy way to make a buck but he stuck with it until he landed a job that offered better pay and job security selling special Fx equipment to television networks.
As young boys my brother and I would sit in front of the TV watching movies with him. Westerns, dramas, comedies, sci-fi were all on the menu and we ate them up with a spoon. My father would point out actors he had known or met as we watched the movies. He was balding by this time and seemed to derive strange pleasure from busting anyone he knew of that sported a toupee or “piece”, as he referred to it. He never missed an opportunity to nab a culprit and point him out. In time my brother and I would beat him to the punch, saying, “Hey Pop, did you know that guy wears a piece?” It was all in good fun and we got a good laugh out of it.
But something was missing. It seemed that the times he cherished most were those he spent in LA, at the racetrack, or in his club, hob-bobbing with celebrities and cronies alike. Those were his “glory days”. I’m not suggesting he didn’t love us because I know in my heart he did. But the obligation of marriage and family was something instilled in him at an early age. It was an obligation that he was expected to fulfill. My father was not encouraged, or allowed to question. And although he defied the status quo by spending his 30s partying in LA, the demand of “domestic bliss” that was festering in his DNA brought him home. There were more than a few occasions when I would catch him silently staring into the distance, a look of longing, and sadness, on his face. His happiest times were clearly behind him.
Reflecting on his choices made me consider the burdens of expectation thar ruled my life for many years. My father like his father before him expected me to follow the rules without question. There was a certain order to things and it was not my job to upset the balance. I was being conditioned to repress my wants and needs in favor of my pater and mater. My passions e.g. drumming and acting were dubbed childish, impractical or downright foolish. Fortunately I had a rebellious nature that kept me going but not nearly enough to overcome their antagonism. In time with some outside assistance and a great deal of introspection I was able to find my own voice and assert my will. I was determined to live my life on my terms, not theirs. To accomplish my goals I took a wide variety of jobs that provided me with time, and ample energy to pursue my passions. The road I took wasn’t easy but it was the one that was tailor-made for me. I was not geared for the 9-5 existence. I wanted and needed something more and I was willing to sacrifice to get it.
For the past 25 years I have devoted my time and energy in building my acting studio. There were many difficult times but I persisted as I knew that this was what I was meant to do. In rooting out and discarding negative influences I was able to stay the course and after abandoning my quest for a career in drumming (I played semi-professionally for 12 years before throwing in the towel) I began to study again last year. The bug that bit me as a child, I am happy to say, was never extinguished.
If, in reading this article, you find something in it that resonates for you, I urge you to follow your instincts. It is not easy to make difficult choices but most often I think it the most rewarding course of action. The feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction you will derive from following your chosen path is like no other. I think “The Rolling Stones” said it best: “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”