Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Old Fashioned Dad

I'm a Harold. Not a lot of people know that (relative to the number of people who know who I am, I guess).   Then again, a lot of people do. And a lot of those people also know that my father was a Harold. And so was his father. That goes back to the late 1800's of Harolds in my family. Somewhere smack dab in the center of that "golden age of cocktails". That time of fanciful mixocological wonderment that created the core formulas and concepts we work with today. But I imagine that for my grandfather, like my father, a lot of that was lost. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Because they were old fashioned, hard working men who drank, but not a lot and nothing fancy.


My Grandfather driving my Grandmother and her sister, mid-1920's (pre-kids)

My mother tells me that I am a lot like the stories she heard about my grandfather (he died in 1949). Gregarious, happy, generous to a fault and a bit scattered. My dad, having lost his dad at 17, quit high school weeks before graduation to join the Korean War effort and put himself through night school after the war, for 8 years. He was more conservative and reserved. My grandfather had been through a wild hey day of parties and fun, but he also weathered financial disaster in the Great Depression and brought up two boys through WWII. They were two different men; two different Harolds. 

Then along comes the third Harold. Born in the summer of 1968 ('twas a good year, they say). A cocktail dead period, mired in hallucinogenic hazes and meandering bass lines. We were all Jersey Boys, with the gradual move from Harold the First in turn of the century NYC, to Harold the Second in Bergen County and finally, Harold the Third, all the way out in the cow town of Montville, Morris County. And I connect pretty deeply with being a Jersey Boy. I connect with both my father's and my grandfather's stories. I would have like to have met my grandfather and had a drink or ten with him. I bet we, as adults, would be good friends. Like many Grandfather/Grandson relationships, it would be based more on fun than responsibility. But alas, I didn't, and won't. 

Harold the Second was a responsible, good father. A hard working, middle class engineer that, like so many of his generation, worked at the same company for 40 years. He had his family and his work, and he was not a drinker. But the thing I learned from my father's moderation with drink, was the slow and focused appreciation of the one or two drinks he would have. As a man of habit, he didn't venture far. He was meat and potatoes (no sauce, nothing fancy). He was spaghetti and meatballs (nothing else in the sauce). An he was Old Fashioneds; Penndenis Club style (though he would not have known that).

My dad probably drank a lot of Old Fashioneds in the 50s and 60s, before he had kids. He and my mom used to actually socialize quite a bit with my grandmother and her generation of our family in the 50s and 60s. They whooped it up in Manhattan and haunts around Bergen County. It sounds like they had a blast together. Like I would have had a blast with them in the same way, had my folks stayed partiers.


Me and my dad, Long Beach Island, NJ, 1969
But they didn't. My grandma would come to our house every two weeks for the weekend and my mom would have the kitchen set up for their little cocktail parties, which usually consisted of Martinis or Scotch Highballs or Scotch on the rocks. That's where I developed an affinity for both. But Dad did not sit at that table. He did not come home and have a drink. He relaxed week after week, after long days of work, on the couch, with his shoes off and the news on. Creature of habit.

But when we went out, he'd order one, maybe two Old Fashioneds. And he'd enjoy them. A lot. I remember watching him look at his drink; the cherry and orange muddled, the way I dislike it. I remember him commenting how nice it was as he twirled the glass in his hand. I remember the look on his face as he debated a second round, and usually decided against it. But mostly, I remember him savoring his Old Fashioneds, like I savored ice cream after a little league game. 

Me and my daughter, Ruby Delilah Mae, May 2013 at home
My dad passed away in 1999, long before I developed my own Old Fashioned habit. Before I really understood the drink and respected it. Before I got to make him one. Before I got to drink one with him. So this Father's Day, my first as a father myself, I will be drinking an Old Fashioned at brunch with my family...enjoying fatherhood, enjoying my father's  and grandfather's memory, and enjoying my Old Fashioned.

The Old Fashioned, as served at Elixir.


2oz Rittenhouse 100 Rye Whiskey
.5oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
stirred with a large ice cube
garnished with an orange twist