Life with Father

by Clarence Day Jr.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1126

The Day household existed under the eccentric domination of Clarence Day, Sr., a Wall Street businessman who was convinced that he was always right. His son stood in awe of him. The boy’s greatest treat was to be taken to his father’s office on Saturday mornings. With Father dressed formally in silk hat and tailed coat, they rode downtown on the elevated train, and the boy gaped curiously into the windows of flophouses and wished that he could enjoy the luxury and freedom of being a tramp. He did not reveal that ambition to his father. Once he ventured to suggest that he would like to be a cowboy, but Father retorted that cowboys were shiftless people.

Father’s office seemed very mysterious to the boy, and he enjoyed the privilege of filling inkwells and running errands. Later, there would be luncheon at Delmonico’s. Father and his favorite waiter always chatted in French about the menu, and Father enjoyed himself greatly. The boy, however, did not think highly of the food. There was too little of it, scarcely enough to satisfy his appetite. Seeing the starved look on his face, Father would order a large chocolate eclair for him.

One of Father’s chief worries was the fear of becoming fat. The members of his club recommended long walks, but Father was already taking long walks. Then they suggested horseback riding. Accordingly, Father became a member of the Riding Club on East Fifty-eighth Street. Apart from stabling conveniences, the club had a park for riding, really only a little ring. It was tame enough for Father, however, who liked things to be orderly and suitably arranged for his use. In a very short time, he felt as if the park belonged to him, and if the leaves were not raked or if papers were lying around, he would take the neglect as a personal affront.

The first horse Father bought was an independent, rebellious creature. There was little love lost between them. The climax came one morning when the horse refused to obey. It reared and reared until Father gave up in disgust and went back to the club. Since the rest of the family wanted a horse of their own, Father gave them that one. He bought another for himself.

Having never been sick, Father became very annoyed whenever anybody else was ill; and he had no sympathy whatever for people whose illnesses he considered to be simply imaginary. Whenever he was unlucky enough to catch a cold, his method of treating it was to blow his nose loudly or to sneeze. Whenever he had a headache, he would not eat. After he had starved out his illness, he would eat again and triumphantly light up a cigar.

Father’s laws were regarded as edicts not to be challenged. Accordingly, young Clarence was amazed when anyone did not respond to Father’s whims and orders. While out in the country one summer, the family ran out of ice. Because Father’s wine must always be chilled, the crisis was a grave one. Nothing the family could do was successful. When Father came home, however, he went down to the village, intimidated a dealer into selling him an icebox, provided he would somehow get it filled with ice, and convinced the iceman to deliver a load immediately.

Father got things done in his own way. The family could never keep servants for very long. One day the cook left. Father stormed into an employment agency, looked over the assembled girls, and then, over the manager’s protests, picked out the one he liked. Although she had...

(This entire section contains 1126 words.)

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not wanted to be a cook, the girl went with him meekly and stayed on in the Day household for twenty-six years. Her name was Margaret.

In the summer, Margaret always stayed in New York to look after the house, and each year there arose the problem of a temporary cook during the time that the family was in the country. One year, they hired Delia. Before long, Father insisted that she was starving him to death. Delia was replaced by a Japanese. At the first meal prepared by the Japanese, Father moaned with pain and declared that he was poisoned. Margaret was hastily summoned from the city, and Father was happy again.

What really vexed Father was Mother’s inability to keep household accounts according to the system he tried to teach her. The money always inexplicably disappeared, and the bills were always high. In addition, Mother was fond of charge accounts. It was so easy to buy things that way, and the first of the month seemed far off in the distance. When the bills came in, however, Father always raged—and then gave in.

When Mother went on a trip to Egypt, Father could not understand why she should want to go off to the far corners of the world just to see pyramids. When she came back with part of her expense money unaccounted for, Father was curious. At last, Mother admitted that she had not spent it but intended to keep it. Father, wanting to know what good it would do her to keep it, demanded its return. Again he lost out, and Mother kept the money.

Young Clarence witnessed many examples of Father’s behavior. He was urged to be prompt for breakfast and bribed with the offer of a watch. He suffered whenever Father opened his mail, particularly when the letters were from young ladies. Father could never understand that letters could ever be for anyone else. When Father finally agreed to have a telephone installed, he likewise assumed that all calls were for him. Once he was very perturbed when a young lady, thinking she was speaking to young Clarence, invited him to lunch.

Women, Father insisted, did not know anything about politics. When Mother came under the influence of Miss Gulick, an emancipated young woman, he snorted contemptuously. Though he liked to dine out with friends, he did not like company in his own house. Once he startled a group of Mother’s friends by uttering a lone, monosyllabic word as he stamped past the dining room on his way upstairs.

Because he had disliked some members of his family buried in the family plot in the cemetery, he did not wish to be buried there after his death. Mother reminded him that such matters are not important to the dead. Yet Father insisted that he was going to buy a new plot in the cemetery, one all for himself, and in a corner where he could get out. Mother looked at him in astonishment. She whispered to young Clarence that she almost believed he could do it.