Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Over the past two weeks, we’ve published Kipp Friedman’s essay, “Life With Father,” here on Memoirville. We couldn’t let him off the hook without answering a few questions about the rest of his family, his continuing relationship with New York City, and the father about whom the piece was written. You can read the first part of “Life With Father” here, and the second part here.
Why did you decide to write about this time in your life?
When my son was a junior in high school and considering college, I started thinking about what life was like for me 30 years ago when I lived with my father in New York City. I realized that when I moved in with my dad, I was about the same age as my son and my dad was close to the age I am today. I began writing the memoir during some down time over the Christmas break two years ago, and the memories came back to me like a flood. It was truly a magical process, and time seemed to melt away. I wouldn’t say that my memories and feelings changed while writing the piece as much as they became more vivid and detailed. Ultimately, I wanted to let my father know what an important period this was for me in my life in the best way that he can relate to—the written word.
My father suggested years ago that I write a story about my experiences living with him. This planted the seed in me, but life got in the way. To tell you the truth, I had hoped for purely egotistical reasons that he would write the piece.
Have you shown this piece to your father?
I have shown this piece to my dad and he loved it and has been very encouraging. He wrote back via e-mail:
“A little too flattering to me, but I think it’s a wonderful piece, about the two of us and the seventies. Great detail and pure and honest as rainwater.”
Talking with my dad about memories, though, is sort of like pulling teeth: he’s very forward-looking and tries to avoid sentimentality. When I asked him recently what impact my moving in had on him, he joked: “I had to cut down on the number of orgies.” In seriousness, he quickly added that it was simply nice having the company.
Do you still live in New York?
I live with my wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am a full-time photographer (mostly b’nai mitzvahs and weddings) and a part-time publicist for the non-profit Jewish Family Services of Milwaukee. My wife and I have a 19-year-old son named Max, who is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, studying architecture. My dad lives with his second wife in a condo on the Avenue of the Americas near Madison Square Garden. He is proud of the fact that there is a Whole Foods grocery store on the first floor of his building.
Do you get back to New York much, then? I’m just wondering how you find it; your piece is so firmly rooted in 1970s New York, and I’m just wondering what the city looks and feels like for you today.
I left New York for college in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1978 when I was 17. Although I visit at least once a year, in many ways my mindset is stuck in the seventies. I always stay at the Excelsior Hotel on 81st St. across from the American Museum of Natural History, and I usually spend a number of hours walking through Central Park, just as I did when I lived on the Upper West Side. Alas, I have become a tourist in my former hometown. When my wife and I visited from South Florida in 1989, my oldest brother, Josh, chastised me for wearing a tropical shirt and white pants, telling me: “You look just like a tourist.” Naturally, he was dressed in standard-issue gray and black.
New York City is a lot cleaner and seems safer then it was when I lived there in the 70s. I find myself visiting neighborhoods and places that I rarely visited while I lived in the city, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Wall Street. I even walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time in my life, the last time taking my son, Max, with me.
Even though my father is the last family member still to reside in Manhattan, the city still holds a strong bond. I’ve even joked with my wife that when I die she is to have my ashes spread in Central Park, preferably near the Bethesda Monument.
Did your siblings have a different relationship with your father than you did? Did any of them get to live with him?
My dad went to great pains to avoid playing favorites with us. Instead, he raised all of us (including his daughter, Molly, from his second marriage) so that we knew that we were all special in his eyes. As he made more frequent business trips to Hollywood, he made a point of taking each of my brothers and I on individual memorable trips with him to see Disneyland and other sites in Southern Californian. Growing up, we would all see our father on most weekends, and for longer stretches during the summer, when we would typically rent a place out in the Hamptons.
I was the only one of my siblings who had the privilege of living with our father exclusively for an extended period of time, which gave me a unique window on his life and which allowed me to share in some fun adventures with him. But even so, my brothers were frequent guests. By the time I left for college, my dad had begun seeing his future wife Pat, which effectively put an end to his bachelor days. My middle brother, Drew, would eventually move in with my dad, who was now living with Pat. And the Black Room that I lived in so comfortably for over a year would be given a fresh coat of cheery cream paint to welcome Drew’s arrival.
You’ve showed this piece to your father; how about your son?
I’ve offered to show the story to my son a number of times, but like a lot of kids his age, he only reads when it is assigned. Hopefully, he’ll read it on SMITH.