Lipton’s Journal/January 25, 1955/263

From Project Mailer

I realized so many funny things about Dad. He is the frustrated giver who has developed his giving to a high artistry. For one of the paradoxes about him (and be it said a paradox is never a paradox if we can only grasp it) was always the contrast between the sensitivity he would reveal at rare isolated moments so that I always knew he understood me better than mother— his sensitivity against his daily pompousness and ability to say nothing interesting were understood by me. For his pompousness was always the echo of mother’s “bourgeois” sentiments. He overdid it. Unconsciously, he made her sound ridiculous. It was his private way of encouraging me to be a rebel. Her dictums made a certain practical common-sense. To rebel against them would have made me feel too guilty. But there was my father, repeating what she said, exaggerating it, multiplying it, until the sheer human nonsense of bourgeois values rang in my head, and then I would turn on him, and instead of showing his wonderful sensitivity and adroitness he would keep repeating what he had said. I remember that when I was eighteen he used to keep saying me, “Norman, either get a haircut or we’ll have to buy you a violin.” From deep within him, he meant it, he was warning me, he was saying, “Go out, son, be a rebel, because if you’re not a rebel you’ll end up a pompous fool, ignored, and the subject of people’s contempt.”

So I loved him today, I wanted to kiss him and hug him because he did so much for me, and he was always so good to me in the cramped way permitted him by society and by my mother, sturdy society-substitute with all of society’s sensitivity for danger. But finally he was smarter than her, he mocked her all through those years, he kept saying, “Really, Norman, why don’t you look decent for once,” to which I would respond by opening my collar and yanking down my tie. And though he would pretend to look pained, there was always that little grin on his face. No wonder. He’s scored a point for respectability which satisfied the top of his brain, and confirmed me in my rebellion which satisfied the rest of him.

A man who can do two opposed things at once for all of his life against great difficulties has a kind of genius. And like all geniuses he looks mighty good in his old age. But what I should say is his nominal old age, for as he said today, and he talked to me as well as me to him, “You know, Norman, I still feel young.”