Exemplary Dad & Author of ‘Call Me By Your Name’
It is late 1993. My dad and I are eating peanuts on the back of the M11 bus. Remember this moment for the rest of your life, he tells me. Some moments are worth remembering even if you can’t understand why, and some things you cannot enjoy without saying how much you are enjoying them.
It is autumn 1994. In the rain my father carries me past Lincoln Center to Dante Park, where a statue of the brooding Florentine looks down on 66th Street, beads of water trickling down his chin. This, my dad says, was the great poet who lived in exile, and we too are in exile.
It is winter 1997. We are watching “Dr. Zhivago” on the small tube TV in my grandparents’ living room — the foggy fluish warmth of an old radiator, the whole house glowing with the yellow light of dying incandescent bulbs. We’re just going to watch for a few minutes, he says, knowing that we’ll probably stay to the end. For weeks afterward I ask him to whistle the theme for me. I hear it in my head at night.
In the spring of 1998 we travel to France alone together, just the two of us. For a few weeks we get to be French. These are the best days of my life and we will talk about them for the next 20 years.
One rainy night in the winter of 2000 I watch my dad read aloud from the first chapter of an unfinished novel beneath the dim light and faux Victorian paneling at KGB Bar. I think of Riverside Drive in the snow, and how one day I might walk into a party and meet a girl.
Rome 2003. We sneak off during a family vacation and visit his old apartment on the other side of town, where he spent some of the unhappiest years of his life, where still we must take a nostalgic pilgrimage. In the late afternoon sun he points to the pink-ochre building and shows me the window of his bedroom. It is different than I imagined it from his stories.
In February 2007, during a blizzard, we find our seats at Film Forum to see “Last Year at Marienbad,” a film that I will hate. He insists that years from now I’ll revisit it and change my mind. He is right.
In spring 2008 I listen as my father reads Chateaubriand and Racine aloud to my grandfather, who won’t make it past May.
In June 2012 he suggests skipping my college graduation and going to the beach instead. Sometimes, as he says in Arabic, lazem beach, we need the beach.
It is spring 2013. I’ve just been dumped 12 hours ago. At lunchtime my father waits outside my office at the Time/Life building to take a walk with me. We split a Starbucks sandwich, and he hands me a handkerchief, which stays in my jacket pocket for the next five years. He could never possibly know how much this walk means to me.
Summer 2017. In his living room, over scotch and pistachios, I read aloud to him the first two chapters of a novel I’m working on. His are the thoughts that matter most.
It is October 2017. I am sitting next to my dad in Alice Tully Hall, waiting for “Call Me By Your Name” to start. I am so proud of him. By the end of the night everyone in the room will see what I have always seen, and have felt what I have always felt.
— Alexander Aciman
Alexander Aciman has written for The New York Times, the New Republic and The Paris Review. He is the son of Andre Aciman.