Last time out, Lip Service joined forces with The New York Times’ Modern Love column for an evening of love-themed stories. Modern Love is a weekly NYT feature of reader-submitted essays that’s in its ninth year, and Lip Service is just entering its eighth year of folks reading true stories from their lives, so it was a good match. We covered a lot of ground – married love, parental love, love lost, and love gone wrong. You can see us reading our stories here.
Lip Service co-founder Andrea Askowitz is a professional, having penned the memoir My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy (which is much more hilarious than that title might imply, because her misery is our giggle), but the evening also featured two more pros – Modern Love’s editor Daniel Jones and his wife, Cathi Hanauer. They offered a “he-said, she-said” on their relationship, something they’ve had a bit of practice with.
I loved Bitch in the House. For a few months my mom and I passed gender studies titles back and forth and Bitch was our second-favorite (just behind Susan J. Douglas’s Where the Girls Are) so I got a kick out of meeting Hanauer. While the other Lip Service presenters geeked out over Daniel Jones, envisioning their Lip Service stories in the New York Times, I was thanking Hanauer for writing Sweet Ruin. There’s a post about Girl Books vs. Boy Books / Female vs. Male readers in there, but I’ll save it for another time.
My story was titled “Daddy,” because I have a flair for the obvious.
The thing to know about Lip Service is that you only have a few minutes to get the audience on your side, let them know what the story is about, and take them on a journey. Sentences and images have to be as simple as possible so that the listeners aren’t wondering, “What does elegiac mean?” or “Is there a hatchback on the Ford Focus?” while you’re trying to explain some vital plot point. Andrea Askowitz cheerfully calls the editing process, “dumbing it down for Lip Service.”
“Daddy” had to be about one thing to play well, and that thing was a man struggling to overcome his past in order to be a decent stepfather to the new boy in his life. It works on that level, but there was so much I wanted to say about my relationship with my father. In “Daddy,” my father is a drunk who used to threaten my siblings and I with a cane and beat us with a yardstick, who broke the yardstick over my back before my age reached double-digits, who got sober only to beat my older siblings and throw them out of the house for their own drug use. Those things are all true, and talking about them is also an effective hook to get a crowd on your side when you have seven minutes to make them care.
But it’s not everything my father was and is. I presented the man I feared but lost the man I love.
The version of my father who had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon (for alcoholic families), marriage counseling, and one-on-one counseling to finally understand his anger and learn to communicate, he got trimmed from the piece. The despair at feeling myself become the worst version of him, of treating my son the poisonous way I’d been treated at his age, that got skimmed over. I heard that same hateful tone I’d grown up with come from my lips and finally, after nearly forty years, I understood my father. He didn’t hate me, he was scared of messing up. All his fears, doubts, and frustrations tainted this monumental task of Fathering to the point where he couldn’t engage without anger. I knew him on a level I never could have reached if I didn’t have a child of my own.
Children are open, playful little folks, but no one tells you they might be mirrors to your deepest self.
When I held Dylan and rocked him to sleep after he had a fit, I felt the best part of my father in the room with me. The man who seemed to have all the patience in the world, who never took himself too seriously, who gave us a better childhood than he’d had. I struggle with a lot of my boyhood pain but ultimately I want that to be the man I pass on to Dylan, all the good parts of my father that didn’t show up in “Daddy.”
I hope you enjoy the reading, but understand it’s only part of the story.
In no way is this a bash on Lip Service. I love what they do, both for their readers and South Florida culture. It’s certainly something everyone should try at least once. In fact, they’re taking submission now.