Grilling Dad

 Zooming with daughters & a granddaughter
My internet connection was down the better part of this past week for causes I'll not bother explaining. The outage nearly caused me to miss posting this missive for the first time in my seven years with Authors Electric. So please excuse this scribble to be rougher than most. It also involves my four dear daughters, who inspire me, but whose privacy I am careful to respect. I therefore proceed with double caution while doing my best to keep it lively.

My grid bump brought home how critically I've come to depend on the 'net. Like most of us these days, I do nearly everything via a wifi -  tablets, computers, smart phones, smart TVs and sundry e-apps and appliances. I write to the Cloud, in that I've taken to using Google.docs in my work, which saves itself automatically on my Google Drive out there in Google's-Cloud-o-sphere -- scattered among giga-bytes of e-digits. These are tools of my trade. I am, after all, an indie e-publisher! I do my best to back up all that's vital up on my trusty hard drives. But still what's that but another e-device. Where does it all go? It's not an antidote for the ephemeral quality of this 2022 existence.

Zoë and I at Sun Wah BBQ, Chicago
Where are the snows of yesteryear? Where are the bestsellers?  It's always been a given that even the most famous of us will be forgotten one day, earn a mention in the history books -- or whatever medium humankind uses to preserve memories, if indeed, humankind manages to survive despite our failings. Does the Cloud with its near-infinite capacity, forestall or speed up our obsolescence and extinction? Will some artificial intellect of the future have the ability and interest in all these memories we post in digital space?

A chronic depressive like myself must beat back the pessimistic ficto-science notion -- reinforced by our online entanglements -- that existence is but the output of a Matrix anyway. All the while, I talk to fictional characters that spring mysteriously from my own unreliable imagination, populating stories and novels I attempt to write and distribute in digital space.

Even my family life has become digital -- what with me and my daughters living thousands thousands of miles from each other in the United States and Mexico.

 L-R: Alicia, Kara, me, Cristina, L.A. c 1982
Feet on the ground, Tosi! I can't deny the experience of reality, whether I believe in it or not, all the time. It is real, it mingles earth, others and self, heart and mind undeniably -- as many others describe it -- whenever I step fully into nature or the nature of others -- the nature of things and beings and self, as I figure it. It springs most indubitably, in my up-and-down, fortuitous, precious interactions with those I love, especially with my four daughters, all adults now, using Skype and Zoom to gather more often than in person (particularly during the pandemic) but but as close and influential in my life as ever.

Cheer up, I tell myself. Father's Day comes this month. Time for my kids, at least, just as it was time for me to remember dear old dad -- the late, great, maddening, contradictory schnazolle, Renzo Tosi, about whom I posted a June 2016 blog. Like many surviving offspring, there are many questions I would like to ask him -- idle and pointed -- were he alive today. 

Why not invite my daughters -- Alicia, Kara, Cristina and Zoë -- to ask me questions, and spin them into a Father's Day blog in the process? The thought occurred to me about ten days ago in what turned out to be one of those not-so-simple bright ideas. I asked each to submit three-to-six free-wheeling questions, no preconditions, no holds barred. I didn't expect it to be easy. They are a complex brood, from three mothers (one surviving) who grew into powerful women, each in her own way, with many levels of ideas and relationships among themselves, with others and the world.

My daughters' responses turned out to to be a gift that keeps on giving -- prompting richer dialogue than I could contain in this humble column space, especially given my Internet coma, which, among other things, prevented me from references their emailed responses until the last minute. Their questions informed as well as inquired, where brief, funny, serious, biographical, as well as psychological -- the stuff of ongoing colloquy, to which I may return in subsequent blogs, but certainly will continue to savour. The process exercises all of our memories, recollections from distinctive points of view, reflecting their diverse attitudes and interests. Here is just a sampling from each, by age.

Alicia: First asked me to describe how I see the changes in my life.

She quoted Jacques' sililoquy on the "seven stages of a man" from  Shakespeare's As You Like It. That calls for a memoir, or at least an essay too long for here but a feast for thought. Offhand I'd say "I started out as a child." Then I was child pretending to be a man while I figured out what that was supposed to me. Finding out, I gave it up for second childhood, then third, then fourth, hoping to improve each version until now, perhaps one day, achieving true simplicity, but probably not.

Kara:  "How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer and why?"

I was an avid reader since early childhood. I didn't think about being a writer until I was 13-14 in 1951.  I lived with my mother in Hollywood, California. My mother, who was an opera singer and sometimes actress, used to host young artists as house guests, the one at that time being a gorgeous, red-haired, 24-year-old chanteuse from Paris named Isabelle, on whom I crushed immediately. She liked a two-page, long-hand story I wrote for her. That's all I needed, but on top of that, she dated a dashing world-travelled Los Angeles Times columnist named Gene Sherman, Gene was a lanky, witty, raconteur nearly twice her age who smoked a pipe and drove a sporty, red MG TD2 roadster.  He dined often at our Hollywood flat and I wanted to be just like him in every way. Several years later he facilitated my getting a junior job at the Times, and I was on my way down the long, winding road of become a writing, not just pretending to be one -- a road I still travel.

Cristina: Among her list of questions, she asked me about how I met her mom, and what was our love story. We talked about these by phone for starters.

Judy was waiting tables at an Italian restaurant in what used to be Little Italy, on North Broadway, north of civic center and the Los Angeles Times where I was a writer at the time. I was divorced, down and probably difficult with two daughters. She was young, fun, keen on life, had grown up Italian like me. She reminded me of a taller, more robust Natalie Wood, pert like her, starring in The Great Race at the time. We dated for a year, drove up the coast to San Francisco, got romantic. She seemed nice with my girls. She moved in. We married. Then Cristina came along in 1970. 

Zoë: Offered a list of deep, personal, social and intellectual questions, as I would expect from the family's only science Ph.d, and black belt in whimsy.

Most notably, she asked how my mother, his "nonnie" -- Alba -- would reacted to her beloved grandson's transition to granddaughter six years ago, had she been alive. "Honest truth." 

Honestly, I believe my mother would have expressed shock at first -- worried whether Z's commitment were real or some sort of breakdown. (Her father, a musician-turned-barber battled mental illness all his life.) But my mother would have got over her concerns quickly and welcomed Zoë as much or more than she had her little grandson Zach about whom she had always been over the moon. I would not have been at all surprised. My mother was an artist, who managed merchandise at the San Francisco Opera Company for many years towards the end of her life and had many dear friends among the city's LGBTQ community.

So much more to say, so little space. I'll likely return to these questions in a later blog. More of personal significance: I'll certainly follow through with the rich colloquy that these questions opened up.

 

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Umberto Tosi's recently published books include the highly praised, Frank Ritz, Hollywood noir detective mystery The Phantom Eye, plus his story collection, Sometimes Ridiculous, plus Ophelia Rising, High Treason, Sports Psyching and Our Own Kind. His short stories have been published most recently in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. His nonfiction essays and articles have been published widely in print and online. He began his career at the Los Angeles Times as a staff writer and an editor for its prize-winning, Sunday magazine, West. He went on to become  editor of San Francisco Magazine. and managing editor of Francis Coppola's City of San Francisco. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four adult daughters. He resides in Chicago.

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Enjoy my Hollywood noir detective thrillers: The Phantom Eye (a Frank Ritz Mystery)  - followed by Oddly Dead, just out in Kindle and paperback, and forthcoming: Death and the Droid.
 "Tosi writes with tremendous style and a pitch perfect ear for everything that makes the classic noir detective story irresistible. Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, make room for Frank Ritz!" - Elizabeth McKenzie, best-selling author of The Portable Veblen.


 



 

 



Comments

Susan Price said…
Really enjoyed this, Umberto. All the best to you and your lovely family.

Is it truly seven years since you started with us? Can't believe it. I always look forward to your blogs.
Peter Leyland said…
Well that's quite story Umberto. Four daughters eh, and all with their own defining characteristics. I only have one who I love to bits and managed to write my last piece about her without mentioning her name. Privacy as you say needs to be respected and my auto fictions can cross boundaries if I'm not careful.

I think you have managed this. I didn't know that you were a chronic depressive, one of those things that I share in this space. I'm aiming for a really funny one next time.

Fathers Day, yes. It's good to be a Dad!
Aliciasammons said…
Loved it! I look forward to reading more blogs packed full of honest and profound insights. Happy Father’s Day, you give all pops every where food for thought.
What a lovely read! - it sounds as if you've been a huge success as a father.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thank you, Susan, Peter, Alicia and Cecellia! I enjoy your writings as well.

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