My parents divorced when I was a baby. My sister and I moved to Los Angeles with our mom while my father, a New York Broadway actor, stayed in New York.
Growing up, my sister and I would see my father when we could—usually a once-a-year visit to New York—or, if he was coming to Los Angeles for a job, we would get a few days here and there.
I remember as little girls sitting on the floor of my sister’s room playing records of musicals my dad had done; Sweet Charity,Follies, Little Mary Sunshine… we would sing along with him, dance and look at the album jacket for hours where there were pictures of him in costumes.
Other times we would watch him on television. I remember an episode of Love American Style he did and in it he played a father who surprises his little girl with a brand new bicycle. My sister was so jealous: “Why is our daddy giving that girl a bike and not us?”
As we were older we got to see him in movies and eat popcorn in the crowd with the others, secretly knowing we were not like the others at all. Because up there was our dad. I could close my eyes and hear his voice and, for me, that was as close as I could get to crawling into my dad’s lap when needing a hug.
When my father and his amazing girlfriend would come to Los Angeles for visits we had a fantastic routine—Knotts Berry Farm, Hamburger Hamlet in Century City for dinner and then, the best part, the drive back home to my mom’s home.
On the drive we would do sing-alongs. My dad would teach us the words to incredible songs. Songs none of our friends had ever heard of. Obscure musical numbers, unpublished ballads and then some classics from his own youth.
The four of us would sing all the way from Century City up Beverly Glen Canyon never wanting the ride to end. Sometimes my dad would even pass our house on purpose so we could get the end of “I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal, sixteen miles on the eery canal.”
We would laugh, beg for one more and my dad would do an incredible imitation of Bing Crosby.
There was one song my father sang, Lavender Blue, that always made me feel like the most special little girl in the world. Sometimes in bed when I couldn’t sleep and the darkness scared me I would sing it to myself, pretending my dad was singing it to me, helping me go to sleep.
Years later, when I got married I surprised my father by having that song played for our dance … and, once again, I felt like the most special girl in the world.
I may have missed out on celebrating birthdays with my dad, or doing homework, crying about a boy who rejected me, or waking up on Christmas morning together.
But I got a different life. A different story. One with grand opening nights, curtains rising, orchestras playing and standing ovations for the man who I knew as daddy.
The first time I saw my father cry was when he was doing a play and the role called for it. I’ve seen my father move and speak and wear clothes that not many children get to see their parents do. I’ve experienced him as the villain, the hero, the romantic lead and the jester.
I’ve sat backstage, met actors, legends, directors, composers. I’ve touched props, explored sets, gotten lost in wardrobes, and worn wigs. I’ve stood on Broadway stages after the audiences had long cleared out—seeing what it looked like from my father’s perspective.
And when the show would end and people would cheer, I got to lean over and say to complete strangers, “That’s my dad. Isn’t he amazing? He’s my favorite actor.”
And now, as a mom, I am re-experiencing this with my daughter. No longer breaking out the records, now we listen to grandpa on CDs.
She sings along to him, she looks at the booklet inside, she stares at the pictures and she smiles, “I love my grandpa’s voice. Play it again, Mommy.”
In a few months we’ll be flying to New York to watch my father open on Broadway in the musical Anything Goes. It will be the first time Hannah will get to see her grandpa on stage. Watch him dance and sing and wear funny outfits.
And after, when the curtain comes down, she will get to lean over to the stranger in the seat next to her and say, “That’s my grandpa. Isn’t he amazing? He’s my favorite actor.”
Some people are the child of a coal miner, a railroad worker, a doctor, lawyer, architect, farmer. I am the proud child of an actor.
And now I sing all those obscure songs to Hannah. And on our car rides home there comes that moment where we pass our own house … just so that we can finish singing Lavender Blue.