Christmas 1972

L-R: Bobby, Dad

Dad is thirty-two here, a year younger than I am now, yet eternally a leap ahead of me. However old I get, I will always look at this photo and see someone my senior. Other photos, from his teen years or early twenties, don’t have this problem. He seems young there. But then he seems like someone else entirely. The first time I saw a picture of him from his early twenties I burst out with “he looks like Ricky Ricardo!” Now this was when I was maybe six or seven and still pretty naive about the markers of ethnicity; still, not entirely ridiculous, as the Daddinos trace their bloodlines not just through Italy but Morocco and Brazil (though not Cuba, far as I know). But in slightly later photos, when he starts losing the callowness in his face — when he starts looking like the man who raised me — he may be twenty-five or thirty, the same age as any random Williamsburgher dork on Friendster, yet completely incommensurable with them in terms of…a lot.

In light of this time dilation, it’s ironic that he’s sharing with my brother one of the childhood passions that lingered all the way through his adulthood: model trains. We bonded, in our way, over them. As a very young child he’d tote me along, spending many longueurs (meaning maybe only an efficient ten minutes a time, still very boring for a child) in the number of the hobby stores on the Island; while I have only one clear memory of going with him to Trainland, a specialty store in Lynbrook, every time I passed by it while commuting on the Long Island Rail Road, I’d think of that moment, very brief but full of light (was a sunny day). One time the family went to a train show somewhere on Long Island: the only thing I remember was the charging sound of trains that seemed to come from everywhere yet nowhere yet behind a very large curtain yet um maybe not. He’d often spend his weekend in the den or butcher-block kitchen table, quietly assembling wooden train cars via x-acto knife and mitre box, balsa wood and a Diet Pepsi to the side. I never thought it odd that an adult took toys seriously, which is possibly a root reason why I still have dozens of old LEGO sets from the eighties…and it never occurred to me until just now that Dad and I shared a passion for lording over miniature worlds, systems you could enclose in a wide hug, smaller versions of larger things. Mine: LEGO sets, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Fisher-Price play-sets, dolls and dollhouses, maps, models esp. Visible Mans and Womens, Build Your Own Books, my own electric set, at five and a half…

Also, photography (the “smaller versions of larger things” thing, again). Dad gave me my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, around 1981, a completely spur of the moment gift (which at the time was completely unlike him). He was the family photographer, more likely to be behind the camera than in front of it. Some fragmentary evidence: out of the over nine hundred 35mm slides our family had developed from 1970 to 1974, my dad appears in less than five of them; of our Christmas photos from 1982 and 1983, the last two Christmases prior to the divorce, he isn’t even in a single shot.’So photos of him are hen’s teeth rare. But the lion’s share of the pictures you’ll see this month are his.’