Things My Father Taught Me: Mary Randolph Norton

Speaking of Mary Randolph, how could I continue this series without the woman who helped create the name “All Plaidout” (she added the All)? Fast were we friends, bonding over everything from our Tony Lama cowboy boots to surprise-let’s-pretend-it’s-your-birthday mint chocolate desserts to too many cups of Stumptown first thing in the morning. Not long after we met, she invited me to her parents’ house for a post-Thanksgiving weekend brunch, which turned into an all day affair. While there, I became John Norton’s biggest fan. We talked about Satchmo and Dr. John and The Cars, and cars, cars, and more cars. When thinking of women who would like to write about their fathers, I was hopeful MR would want to talk about hers, as it is clear, she is her father’s daughter. Thank you, Mary Randolph for sharing your thoughts on your dad today.


When generously tasked with this contribution, it seemed, though many have done so successfully, impossible to settle on any one thing — or any number of things — my father taught me. He essentially taught me all things. He is an extraordinary man. A man so charming that my Goddess Mother even fell for him. To know my father is to understand that in some way he knows something about everything: historical anecdotes, etymologies, musicians’ birth places, arcane movie trivia. All things. A former employee of The New Yorker and Spy magazines, and a man who’s worked in newspapers for much of his career, my father has a professorial way about him. An industrious way. A temperament suited for intellectual discussion. Simply put: he’s a class act.

So, to look at my father, one might be surprised to learn he knows — above all else — everything about cars. I do not exaggerate when I say he can be shown a car’s headlight and effortlessly respond with its year, make and model. He loves old cars. He loves race cars. He loves rare cars. Though I personally don’t crave the open road, nor a car of my own, I take snapshots of old ones I see on San Francisco streets to send his way in an effort to test his knowledge or plainly enjoy it.

It is not so much an appreciation of cars — which I share — that I’ve learned from my father, but rather how wonderful it is to own a complete knowledge. He knows everything about this one subject. He could teach a class. He could write a book. And though I’m still seeking it, he’s taught me to find something to learn, love, exhaust, and appreciate that might surprise even a close friend.