Things My Father Taught Me: Claire Bidwell Smith
“What about you? How are you? What’s new with you? Tell me more about your projects. And how are things with Jess? No, really, how are things with Jess?” Claire. She is a best-selling author. She is about to have her book turned into a movie. She is the wife of a truly kind and generous man. She is the mother of two strikingly beautiful and prodigiously intelligent girls. She is a close and caring friend to the woman I love most. She is so many things to so many people, and yet I’ve never seen her spend an extra second on Claire. I follow along with her life via her prolific blog and her sun-splashed photos on Instagram, and I constantly marvel at her ability to make as much of it fit as she can. Glad to know her. Honored to have her words grace this blog.
Beyond the Blue Suit
By Claire Bidwell Smith
Growing up, everyone thought my father was my grandfather. He was fifty-seven when I was born, and the tufts of grey hair behind his ears, cardigans and funny, old hats, were what led everyone who saw us together to give a sweet smile, and inquire if I was his little granddaughter.
He taught me to make light of it, even came up with a riddle to confuse these well-wishers. “No,” he’d answer, “she’s my grandson’s aunt,” alluding to the relationship I had with my half-sister, his first daughter. And then he and I would share a secret smile and go back to eating our pancakes.
But the truth was that my father really was from a different generation. While I was growing up a child of the decadent 80s, my father had been reared during the depression. He grew up in a small town in Michigan, fought in WWII, and came home from the war to make something of himself in California.
My father may not have been like the other young, fit dads at preschool drop-off in the mornings, but he had something that none of them had yet. He was a man who had come into his own; he inhabited himself the way few people in this world really do. I think that’s why when he showed up at my glamorous mother’s New York City apartment for a blind date in 1975 wearing an awful blue leisure suit embroidered with tiny flowers that he’d bought in Mexico, she immediately forgave him for it and looked past his attire to the man he was.
Everything my parents created together was unconventional, to the world-traveling they did, the 17-year age gap they shared, and the choice to have a child together so late in life. But throughout it all, my father just shrugged. “Who cares about the way everyone else does things, kiddo?” he’d ask when I observed the way he consistently broke social rules. Eventually I learned to shrug right along with him.
Looking back, I think that’s the biggest thing he taught me in the twenty-five years I had with him. He showed me how to look at the larger picture of life, how to look past the surface of things, past the illusions that trip most people up, and how to find the deeper meaning of every relationship, and every moment.