We all turn into our parents at one point or another. I just read a quasi scientific article that said it happens on average at the age of 32. OK. In my case the transformation happened at 35 and it was entirely too literal.
My parents came back to Israel a few years ago. Their Hebrew is OK but Israelis like to practice their English on them. So sometimes they need my help when it comes to dealing with various organizations in Hebrew. Like the bank.
A few days ago my dad gets his new credit card in the mail and asks for my help in activating the card. That’s fine. I’m usually looking for ways not to do real work when I’m at work. It’s my own proven method for ascending the ranks at any corporate organization. The more inept, the more bumbling you are the quicker you climb the ladder. Matter of fact this blog is being written on company time (see mom, I’m finally getting paid to write). I prepare all the relevant information and since honesty is almost always the best policy, I tell the telebanking clerk that I’m calling on behalf of my dad, since he doesn’t speak the language too well. Sorry, she says. She needs to speak with him. She assures me that there are English speaking customer service reps. There aren’t. Trust me.
Hmmmm. OK. I hang up. I think about it for a second. I have all of my dad’s bank information. I have his ID number. What’s stopping me from pretending to be him? After all, nobody at the telebank knows his voice and can call me on my bluff.
So I turn into my dad. Officially. They ask me for my ID number. I give them mine… er his. My voice is a bit shaky. Should I try to make myself sound older? How does one sound older anyway? Should I fake an accent? I’m good at that. Should I speak slower? Maybe make reference to the old days? WWII? D-Day? Too old? Vietnam? Barbara Streisand maybe? A David Levi joke?
Then the difficult questions begin. “What’s your full name?” I say my, his full name. I can feel weirdness in every pore of my body. “What’s your birthday?” “December 9th, 1945”.
So far so good. I write down on a piece of paper all the information I can remember about my dad. Height. Weight. Pet’s name. Fiona, or Fifi for short.
“The amount of your last paycheck?” she asks. Trick question. I’m on to you. “I’m retired”, I say. I have a pension.
“Can you tell me your wife’s name and the amount of her last paycheck?” Now the whole sordid affair has taken a creepy Oedipal twist. I do not like this one bit. My mom is now my wife. When did that happen? I know I’ve had this nightmare before but now it’s real.
“My wife, R. earned…er… ” I pause. I keep coming back to the realization that I referred to my mom as my wife. I even called her by name. I never call her by her name. She’s always been Mom.
Since it’s a joint account she asks another question. I begin to sweat. Like a drug mule at the airport baggage screening. “When was your wife born?”
“My wife was born on February 24th, 19xx” I say. Man, what a cougar! I keep thinking to myself. Marrying a young stud like myself.
“I see you’re calling from a different number than the one appearing on your records. Can you provide us with one of the numbers listed on this account?”
Oh shit. What now? Do I give her my dad’s number and risk her calling him? When he answers and mumbles his way in Hebrew she’ll know that she wasn’t talking to the real M.B. Gilbert. The jig will be up. She was talking to some young impostor trying to activate his card. Alarms will go off. Numbers will be traced. Investigations will ensue. What’s worse is that credit cards will most certainly not be activated.
“No, that number is er… well, that phone is being repaired.” I stutter. I can’t say that it’s no longer my number because then they’ll erase it from the system and if he ever tries to call he’ll be denied.
“How about your wife’s number?” She asks. There goes that creepy feeling again.
“My wife is working right now.” It’s the only truthful thing I’ve said during this whole conversation. I picture my mom/wife at work getting the phone call. She’s quick on her feet and might be able to fake her way through it. Maybe not in Hebrew though.
Finally she activated the card but not before she put me through the ringer one more time.
“I need you to confirm that you are M.B. Gilbert.” Of course I’m not! I’m me. Jason Fredric Gilbert! I’m not my father.
But every once in a while I am whether I like it or not. Like with the car. I started driving slower once D. was born. I always used to kid my dad about his slow driving. Or the parking. If I find a great parking place underneath our apartment I don’t want to move the car. Ever. M. just rolls her eyes. And I think back to all those times growing up when I would get so effing angry when he didn’t want to move the car because he had a great spot. Or falling asleep in his chair. Right after dinner. I’ve done that too, now. Kids wear you out. You only realize that once you’ve had them.
Or certain things that I say. Or do. Or the way I roll my eyes condescendingly when M. says something that I perceive as foolish. Or the way I snap and get angry at the stupidest things sometimes and D. looks at me like: Chill out, man. I must have looked at my dad in exactly the same way. Or my love of crossword puzzles. Or old movies. Or coffee. Or art. Or dropping my phone a lot. Or butt dialing. Or… well, the list goes on.
Growing up I was always the son of. My dad was deeply involved in promoting tennis and playing tennis in Israel and forged quite a reputation. He has had a great impact on many people’s lives and it’s always been a great source of pride for me when people come up to me, even after all these years and ask me how he is. Even though it was hard coming out of his long shadow, it happened. Not long ago. He was playing at the Maccabiah and a longtime friend of his came up to him and told him how much he enjoyed reading my silly blogs on the Times of Israel. It made me feel, well, like I was slightly more than just the son of. He was now the father of.
I have been very fortunate to be my dad now on more than one occasion. Whether it’s calling the cable provider, the insurance company or the water company, I have the routine nailed perfectly. Each time I call I add subtle nuances and I’m beginning to feel that the fine line between pretending and actually becoming, has, inevitably, become infinitely blurred.