June 14, 2014 | Comments Off on It takes a worried dad | Betsy Woodman
I came across a manila folder that was stained and soft from multiple uses and had “Important Mementoes” written on the outside in my mother’s exuberant upward-sloping handwriting.
Among the yellowing newspaper clippings, invitation cards, golf scorecards and the like, there was a letter written to my mom by her dad, in November 1939. In this picture, my mom’s parents, Helen and Jacob Randolph, are center row, left.
My mother isn’t in this picture–it must have been taken the year she was in New York, studying ballet under a Mr. Celli, a student of the legendary Italian ballet master Enrico Ceccheti. Ceccheti method is still taught and emphasizes rigorous classical style and training.
From an early age, my mother had been the darling of her local ballet school.
However, her parents weren’t keen to have her go on to a professional career in dance, and after many discussions on this topic, she had agreed to go to one year of college first.
However, when she got there, her desire to dance did not fade. She spent a good part of the year crying in her dorm room. Her adoring father (a salesman of aluminum products) finally broke down and agreed to finance the stay in New York and the ballet lessons.
Off she went to the Big Apple, where she lived at the Manhattan Y, and enrolled in Mr. Celli’s class. Alas! The situation she had longed for was not nirvana. After six weeks, she wanted to quit. Mr. Celli was way more demanding than she had expected.
My grandfather was suddenly put in the position of cheerleader/coach. “I don’t think you should allow yourself to get discouraged,” he wrote, “and you should not give up. Celli may be severe and difficult. But don’t you still believe he knows the dance business and is he not sincere in his efforts?”
He reminded her that one had to put in “many more hours of training and apprenticeship to really develop anything worthwhile….Think of the hrs & hrs one must put in to learn to fly. Think of the hrs & hrs a businessman has to apply to the grind to really get anywhere.” To succeed, he reminded her, one had to “pay the price of eternal and everlasting application.” He wanted my mom to show her “staying qualities.”
He also gave her a bit of a scolding: “Did Celli ever question you or criticize you for the 2 Saturdays you cut your lessons?”
Still, he couldn’t bear to see her unhappy. He also really didn’t want her to be a dancer. If she decided against dancing on stage, he asked, would she consider teaching dance? Also, there were alternatives to the dance life. Would she be interested in working at Saks for a trial period? He could arrange for an introduction to some folks at that department store.
The letter gives a very mixed message—try harder, but it’s okay if you do something else—and I don’t know what my mother made of it. She did stick out the year in New York and made considerable progress with her ballet technique. Then she came home to Newton, Massachusetts, and shortly after that became engaged to my dad.
She eventually found her niche in the dance world, studying Bharatnatyam dance in India, founding a ballet school in Delhi, and putting on benefit performances for various charities. By this time, her dad was dead; he never knew the ultimate benefits of the year of lessons he’d paid for in New York.
When you think of it, that’s not so unusual. Most dads don’t get to see the ultimate results of the investment they make in their kids, or the effects of the mixed messages they transmit, either.
They do their best. They coax, cheer, scold, and hope for the best. Sometimes they don’t live to see how things turn out.
Happy Father’s Day, dads everywhere.