Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween

Every father seems a big man to his daughter, and mine was no exception. Big, as in hero. Big, as in physical size. Big, as in larger-than-life persona who dominated any space he entered.

Later, after he died, and when I was grown up, I discovered that my childhood perception of his physical size was not a matter of perception but of actual fact. A friend and I were going to a Halloween costume party. My mother kindly loaned Joe my father's white dress naval uniform—the one he wore at the Metropolitan Opera—so that we could go as Lieutenant Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San from "Madama Butterfly." Joe was a big man, but even so, we had to stuff the front of the jacket with a small pillow to keep it from hanging off him like a limp rag. My father was a big man.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An appreciation

Margo and her dad c. 1955
Greenwich, Connecticut

Every little girl thinks her father can move mountains. Mine could move rivers and roads—literally. When we lived in Weston, Connecticut, the quiet country lane we lived on ran too near our house, he thought, so he had it moved. This involved, in addition to rerouting the road, dismantling the ancient dry stone wall that ran the length of our property, and moving that too.

Later, when we moved to Greenwich, a brook bisected the backyard, shrinking my play area beyond what he deemed acceptable. So he had the brook moved thirty feet further from the house to allow more space for my outdoor activities.

Here was a man who could move roads and rivers—what couldn't he do? He couldn't stop the march of time, the change in musical tastes, the decline of his career—all of which severely diminished his stature in his daughter's eyes. He died broke and broken when I was fifteen years old. I never forgave him. I forgot him. It wasn't until many years later, in the course of researching a biographical memoir about him, that I rediscovered my father. The rediscovery of what made him such a "big man" gave me a more sympathetic perspective on the pressures that caused his decline. Here was a man who felt that the impossible was possible—it just might take a little longer or cost a little more. Here was a man who created most of the 'lucky breaks' in his career. Later, as the music business changed, and his career was on the wane, in his desperation he created enemies not opportunities. Here was a man who gave all he had to the world but had nothing left to sustain himself when the upward path began its downward course.

James Melton is still a big man to his daughter—only now the picture is a truer, more fully formed one.