How Much You Pay?

I’ve written a lot about the trauma experienced by my parents and family. There certainly were some sad times but there were plenty of funny moments as well. I thought I would share one particular chapter in my manuscript that you might make you laugh.

Everything was my father’s business, and he had no understanding of boundaries. Dad was always commenting on a woman’s weight. He would either ask, “You put on veig?” or “You lose veig?” and no matter how many times I told him it was rude, he would continue to do it. In some cases, he would make the comment while pinching their behind.

Ever fixated on money, he would always ask, “How much you make?” I refused to tell him because it would be the equivalent of purchasing an ad in the Toronto Star and listing my salary there. Of course, he would be insulted that I wouldn’t tell him. But telling my wife that she looked like she put on weight was evidently not insulting. My nephew Dov, is an actor and when he was younger he did a commercial for pre-cooked bacon. My father wasn’t impressed. He told Dov that a nice Jewish boy shouldn’t be in bacon ads. Of course, he also asked Dove, “how they pay you?” Without skipping a beat, Dov said, “a year’s worth of bacon.”

If you bought something new, he would immediately want to know, “How much you pay?” Invariably after you told him, he would always react by sucking in air through pursed lips and remark, “Oh, so much!” In his mind, prices were forever stuck in the 1950s. His need to know your salary or spending was solely to satisfy himself that his children were doing well. It also provided him with something to brag about to his friends. That’s why I refused to tell him my salary. His fixation on money never stopped. He would drop by our house, see a bowl of cherries on the counter, and immediately ask, “how much you pay?” I would tell him, and his typical response was that they were one dollar a pound cheaper at the No Frills store. He didn’t do this just to me. Everyone in the family was given the same treatment.

My father was an endless source of embarrassment. It’s one of the reasons I avoided inviting friends over when he was home. Some of the most embarrassing moments involved taking him shopping. He would haggle over the price of everything. Once he would agree to a price, he would declare, “I no pay tax,” and the haggling would resume. I would sometimes move to the other end of the store to avoid becoming involved because often the owner would turn to me as if I could convince him to be more reasonable. If it was one of his Jewish cronies, the negotiation would involve loud cursing in Yiddish. Everyone was a ganef (thief in Yiddish). One time I went with him to purchase a new television. He went through the usual routine of knocking down the price and then refusing to pay tax. The store owner refused to waive the sales tax. When he couldn’t get his way, he turned to me and ordered, “let’s go!” He marched out of the store and into his car with me scrambling to keep up. As we were pulling out of the lot, the owner ran out to stop us and sold him the television without the tax. I was forced to witness this ritual so many times and it was always a humiliating experience.

Dad had many ways in which to embarrass you. One of things important to my dad was whether or not you were a macher. It literally translates to “maker,” but means someone who is influential or a big shot. He would frequently comment on who was a macher. If you were a macher, then you were someone. My father had accounts in the bank branches where my brother worked. One time, when he was at Irv’s branch doing, a bank vice president was visiting the branch. Another staff member introduced the executive to my father. My father shook his hand and asked, “Who is more of a big shot, you or my son?” Fortunately, the executive laughed it off.

Both money and status were important to Dad. One time, when I came for a visit, he told me that he was mad at me. I asked why and was informed it was because I had never told him I was a deputy minister (the most senior executive position in a government department). What it implied was that I was hiding from him that I was a macher. I laughed and said I wasn’t, but he continued to insist that someone had told him that I was. Dad once bragged that Irv had been to dinner with the Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney. As it turns out, Irv had attended a political fundraising dinner at which Brian Mulroney was the featured guest.

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