Let’s review the cost-free techniques that we’ve learned so far for raising an achievement-oriented, obedient, drug-free, virgin adult: Calamity, Praise, Local Theater, and flat feet. Another key element is “Strong Father Figure / Fear Thereof.”
My dad look like Clint Eastwood. His half-Scottish, half-German face in repose is handsome but terrifying. I searched the audience for him during the sixth-grade chorus concert and, seeing his stern expression, was convinced that he had seen me messing up the words to the Happy Days theme and that I was in big trouble. I spent the rest of the concert suppressing terror burps, only to be given a big hug and a kiss afterward. It took me years to realize, ‘Oh, that’s just his face.’
It’s my face, too, it turns out. The cheekbones later discovered there by a team of gay excavators are courtesy of my dad.
Don Fey dresses well. He has an artist’s eye for mixing colors and prints. He wears tweedy jackets over sweater vests in the winter and seersucker suits in the summer. His garnet college ring shows off his well-groomed hands. He can still rock a hat.
My dad looks like he’s ‘somebody’. One day when I was visiting him on his lunch hour, he ran into a couple of old high school buddies in downtown Philadelphia. “Hey, Don Fey!” one of the guys called from across the street. “Oh my God, Don Fey,” the other guy said excitedly. Two secretaries waiting at the light with my dad whispered knowingly to each other, “That’s Don Fey.”
Before I was born, my mother took my brother to Greece for the whole summer to visit family. When they were finally coming back, my dad washed and waxed his Chevy convertible, put on his best sharkskin suit, and drove all the way from Philadelphia to New York International Airport to pick them up. (In those days, international travel meant dressing up, smoking on planes, wearing Pan Am slippers, and flying into New York.)
Their flight was due to arrive early in the morning, so Don Fey, who is never late for anything, got to the airport just before dawn. As he popped on his sweet lid and walked across the deserted parking lot toward the terminal, he saw two black gentlemen approaching from far away. He played it cool to hide his apprehension. He was in New York, after all, one of the world’s most dangerous cities if you’re from any other city, and from far away in the dark he couldn’t tell if the guys were airport employees or loiterers.
As they got closer, he noticed they were staring him down. He continued to play it cool. Don Fey had grown up in West Philly where he lived comfortably as a Caucasian minority. Of course, these guys couldn’t know that. His heart was beating a little faster as they came within ten feet of each other.
The guys looked at him intently, then one turned to the other and said, “That is one boss, bold, bladed motherfucker.”
That’s Don Fey. He’s just a badass. He was a code breaker in Korea. He was a fireman in Philadelphia. He’s a skilled watercolorist. He’s written two mystery novels. He taught himself Greek so well that when he went to buy tickets to the Acropolis once, the docent told him, “It’s free for Greek citizens.”
Neighborhood kids would gather on our porch just to listen to him swear at the Phillie game. When watching the Flyers, he would change the channel during comercials and he always knew exactly when to turn it back to catch the start of play. When my cousin marveled at his ability, my dad was matter-of-fact: “You just wait ninety seconds.” Isn’t everyone’s brain a Swiss watch?
Don Fey is a Goldwater Republican, which is his only option. If you’re Don Fey, you can’t look at Joe Biden and be like, ‘Yes, I want to be led by this gentleman with the capped teeth.’ You’re not going to listen to John Kerry pretending to empathize with you about the rising cost of your medications. You certainly aren’t interested in the ‘unresolved father issues’ that rendered Bill Clinton unable to keep his fly closed. Don Fey is not going to put up with that. Don Fey is a grown-ass man! Black people find him stylish!
Don Fey is from the Silent Generation. They are different from their children. They cannot be ‘marketed to’. They don’t feel ‘loyalty’ to Barnes & Noble over Borders. If you told Don Fey that you never go to Burger King, only McDonald’s, because you ‘grew up with the Hamburglar,’ he would look at you like you were a moron.
When my face was slashed, my dad held me on his lap in the car to the hospital, applying direct pressure with the swift calm of a veteran and an ex-fireman. I looked up and asked him, “Am I going to die?” “Don’t speak,” he said. So, yeah, he’s not the kind of guy who wants to watch people eat bugs on Survivor. IT’s so clear to me how those two things are related.
My dad has visited me at work over the years, and I’ve noticed that powerful men react to him in a weird way. They ‘stand down’. The first time Lorne Michaels met my dad, he said afterward, “Your father is… impressive.” They meet Don Fey and it rearranges something in their brain about me. Alec Baldwin took a long look at him and gave him a firm handshake. “This is your dad, huh?” What are they realizing? I wonder. That they’d better never mess with me, or Don Fey will yell at them? That I have high expectations for the men in my life because I have a strong father figure?
Only Colin Quinn was direct about it. “Your father doesn’t fucking play games. You would never come home with a shamrock tattoo in that house.” That’s Don Fey.
Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011).
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