Posts Tagged holiday parties

The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a work holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and ‘slut.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.


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“Are you still dating that what’s-his-name?”: and Other Holiday Party Conversation Killers

Ah, Christmas! What’s not to love about this season: the music, the chocolate, the chilly weather, the hot coco, the crackling fire, the time with loved ones…and, of course, the holiday parties. You know the ones: where one of your parents’ friends corners you in the buffet line to ask you what wonderful, exciting things you’ve been doing with your life, and you stand there with your plate in your hand, trying to formulate a polite response with one half of your brain while the other half engages in a fierce inner dialogue with your instinct to make a run for it and your craving for a slice of the honey-baked ham that comes only once a year. IT goes rather something like this:

“So how are you, honey? It’s so good to see you,” gushes friend-of-the-mother.
“Yes, likewise, it’s been so long,” I murmur. Hmm, there’s a spot on the couch next to Grandma; do I remain caught in a conversation with friend-of-the-mother about my nonexistent boyfriend or allow myself to become entrapped in an intellectual debate with Grandma about why anyone who’s read The DaVinci Code is (or is not) going to Hell? IN lieu of either, I consider stabbing myself repeatedly in the eye with a shrimp fork.

“So, how’s teaching?” Translation: I haven’t seen you since you were 5, so let’s talk about something while we’re cuing for our food. Let’s talk about work, for lack of a more stimulating subject.
“It’s going well. I really enjoy it.” Translation: I’m overworked and underpaid. Did you know that graduate teaching assistants at research institutions do roughly 60 % of the teaching and research and are the lowest-paid employees? Where’s the vodka?

“How’s your dissertation coming?” Translation: I thought you wanted to be a teacher, not a professional student. When are you going to get your degree and start teaching full-time so you can pay your parents back and they can finally retire and pay off their mortgage? (Insert small twinge of guilt as I remember that if not for me, my mother would probably be close to retirement).
“It’s coming along. It’s a fairly big project and a lot goes into it.” Translation: My dissertation is like an unruly toddler who spends its time pulling books off my shelves, climbing walls, and making a general mess of my life. Writing a dissertation is like being pregnant: all I do is eat and cry.

“Are you seeing anyone? Have you met anyone special?” Translation: where’s your boyfriend? Why haven’t you brought him? It’s time a nice Catholic boy put a ring on your finger so your father can stop worrying about you (AKA putting up with/supporting you)and pass the torch onto another poor sucker. (This is getting a bit too Bridget Jones, and I’m starting to glance anxiously around to make sure my parents haven’t invited any brooding young successful human rights lawyers in reindeer jumpers.)
“I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I haven’t been dating much.” Alternatively: “My boyfriend is busy/working/visiting his family/under quarantine with mononucleosis.” Translation: Charley Brown’s Christmas tree has a longer life span than my relationships. If one more person asks me that question, I might seriously have to consider adjusting the brandy-to-eggnog ratio in my drink. Don’t force my hand.

“Your mom and I were at so-and-so’s baby shower last weekend. I remember when the two of you played dress-up.” Translation: Since we talked about marriage, you should have babies, lots of them, because Italians specialize in manufacturing robust, strong, well-fed babies, and you’re not getting any younger. (Apparently laundry isn’t the only thing in life I’m behind on. I really need to get my priorities sorted out, so it would seem).
“Yes, I’m really glad to hear she’s doing well.” Translation: That brat. Why is everyone my age married, engaged, or in a stable adult relationship? Last week I got an e-mail from a friend and her husband; they’re expecting their second child. Would people please stop setting such high standards? And about that biological clock innuendo, yes, it’s ticking, but I think I can afford to hit the snooze button a few more times.

Note: all of this is happening while friend-of-the-mother is helping me to food, because no one trusts the blind woman with a myriad of hot dishes that have spillage and splatter potential. Why don’t you just stick me at the little blue plastic kid’s table where I obviously belong, because I have no “real job”, no boyfriend/spouse, and no children, all of which, according to friend-of-the-mother, seem to be the minimum benchmarks for joining the adult table. Hmph.

“There you are, honey. Careful, it’s hot. There’s a seat on the couch right next to your grandmother.”

And off I scurry, careful not to spill my food, because grownups don’t spill food, and plunk myself down beside grandma to talk about the morally reprehensible Dan Brown, which is far more interesting than an episode of: this is your life, almost 30 and boring as Hell.

Then Dad comes over to refresh my drink, and suddenly, all is right with the world.

Question: How do you handle awkward holiday parties? Do you have a particularly cringe-worthy party experience?

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