I first became aware of his writing in 2008, when he was blogging from the campaign trail on something called Stumper for Newsweek. Then, I learned he runs this incredibly involved and well-honed design and music tumblr, Covenger + Kester. Though we’ve only run into one another a handful of times, and each encounter has been incredibly brief, Andrew Romano has always taken time to “catch up.” Though he’s made his living as a professional journalist, and I’m just a hack blogger, he treats me as his equal. Perhaps, it’s behavior he picked from his father.
No immortal words of wisdom. No rules for his firstborn son. No sartorial lessons, no shaving tutorials, no manly how-to’s of any kind, really, as far as I can recall.
And yet somehow he’s made me who I am.
John Romano was born in North Brunswick, N.J. in 1948. His childhood skirted the edges of Sopranoland. His grandparents emigrated from Sicily and Calabria; his grandfather Antonio labored in construction, then started his own lumber yard, allegedly because the guys with “connections” were crowding him out and getting all the contracts.
Later, my dad’s dad Vincent took over the family business and ran it with his two brothers. He was a major in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He was a good father but he was also distant. Instead of attending his sons’ track meets he would rebuild Model Ts or breed guppies in the basement. That sort of thing. He was not particularly in touch with his feelings, except maybe his temper.
In some ways my dad turned out like his dad. They share a short fuse and a basic estrangement from their own emotions. But long ago my dad decided—consciously or unconsciously—not to be a detached authority figure, and he never has been. Quite the opposite. We’ve always behaved more like brothers than like father and son.
For as long as I can remember my dad has treated me like a person, an equal—his junior, maybe, but only slightly. His enthusiasms became mine. We took guitar lessons from the same guy, one after the other. We’d pass issues of Road & Track back and forth. Down the Jersey shore, he would go longboarding. I would go bodyboarding.
Over time, our roles reversed somewhat. Most days I wear Alden Indy boots and Brooks Brothers oxford shirts. Now my dad does too. Before my sister’s wedding he asked me—obliquely but unmistakably—to pick out his outfit, and I obliged.
We bicker, of course. My dad usually has a pristine Leica film camera stashed away somewhere. I always ask to use it; he always refuses. He once gave me a 1960s Seiko wristwatch, then forgot it was a gift and started demanding it back. (Eventually he just bought another on eBay. And another.) I “borrow” his books and prints—an Edward Curtis photogravure, a Bill Brandt monograph—and hope he won’t notice. He always does.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because even though I may not have gotten a lot of advice growing up, I think I got something better in the bargain. I got my father’s respect, and in turn I learned to respect myself. I saw my dad doing something cool—playing a Fender, riding a motorcycle—and I never doubted that I could do the same. I saw my dad being a good man—working in special education for 30 years, attending every single one of my soccer games—and I knew that I could be a good man too.
I’m still trying.