Daddy Stories

by Phyllis Kriegel 

The only funnies allowed in our house came tucked into the New York Herald Tribune–a respectable Republican newspaper, considered boring by seven-year-old me. My father refused to give a nickel to a Hearst publication or any newspaper considered “yellow journalism.” Neighbors took pity and supplied me with their castoff comics: Dick Tracy, the Katzenjammer Kids, and Lil’Abner—delectable, forbidden fruit.

But Daddy offered other treats, “Let’s go to the bakery and you can choose dessert.” So we’d walk down Main Street hand in hand. Like a Jewish Socrates, he would solicit my opinion, answer my questions with due deference, and turn our stroll into a privileged moment.

After dinner, ending with my chosen gooey dessert, came Toscanini time– when the Philharmonic ‘s music poured out of our mahogany Magnavox.

Sometimes Daddy would dance around the living room to Tchaikovsky or Brahms. My world turned joyous. He was so graceful, so handsome, as light on his feet as Fred Astaire. After whirling and twirling, he’d make a daring leap to our coffee table for finale.

One memorable Sunday he landed instead on Momma’s lap.  I clapped and begged for more. I wonder, did he feel like a bird soaring over New Jersey? Or was he remembering bearded men dancing in Vilna?


My father, never a big drinker, loved his shot of Haig and Haig Pinch before dinner. Drink in hand, he’d settle into an over-stuffed armchair, available to hear my pesky plaints–the small compass of a child’s world deserved serious consideration.  What I deemed as monstrous slights, he reduced to small potatoes. With a smile or gentle joke, came advice:

“You might tease someone about their good points but not about weak ones,” he said, after I had mocked a neighborhood kid for some flimsy fault.

Eventually our schmooze time diminished. Girl friends became intimate confidants. Boys and Saturday night dates loomed large. My heart no longer belonged just to Daddy.

Before going off for my freshman year at college, we talked of the new life ahead. An offhand, “Sweetheart, if you’re going to drink, stick to Scotch.” he said. “And be a good girl.”

Did Scotch have some gnomic property to keep me safe? Was he aware of my teen escapades: sipping a Cuba Libre on the terrace of the Claremont Inn; slipping into New York state with its lower drinking age to order a rye and ginger; partying in backyards and swilling purple passion punch–guaranteed to make you sick. Forget the taste, you wanted the euphoria.

The subtext was sex: frantic necking, slow dancing in the dark, grappling in the back seat—all those delicious, dangerous games.

I wonder, did Daddy think that Scotch warded off randy feelings. No matter. My father was paying attention– the rarest and purest form of generosity–some say the greatest act of love. With my children and grandchildren I try to pay attention, as if Daddy were whispering in my ear.


I have a passion for narrative. I see telling stories as a survival strategy—a way of being in the world.