My dad was bi-polar and had I known more about his condition back then I’m sure that I would have seen all his extravagant promises and ever-increasing energy as early warning shots across the bow. He could only get worse and finally “crash” before slipping into another deep depression that might last months if he didn’t undergo ECT (electro-convulsive therapy).
That morning I was wondering where he was. He’d hadn’t come home the night before, nor had he called to say that he’d be back late and that I shouldn’t wait up for him. I figured that eventually he would show up and grabbed a box of donuts from the fridge and had breakfast as the Canadian ambassador in Washington fielded questions from an audience of American college students on the Today Show. What did the Ambassador think of the US and Americans in general, how strong was the relationship between the two countries and did Canada have a president and if so who was he? The Ambassador said that Canada was a constitutional monarchy and that the Queen of England was its head of state, and it was right about then when the front door opened and I saw my dad peek inside wearing what looked like a blond wig. I think he was surprised to see me because he closed the door almost as quickly as it had opened.
I sat there in my chair as the college students continued to ask their questions on TV and I thought, “Was that Greg?” I had heard from a step-brother a few years before that he liked to put on make-up and my mother had once told me that when she had been married to him he would cross-dress, but hearing about his exploits was one thing, seeing him actually do it quite another.
A few minutes later the door opened again and my father walked in, this time without the wig and holding his high heel shoes. He was wearing a silk dress and had a serious look on his face as he passed in front of me. He was pretending that I wasn’t there, his lips pursed in a kind of grimace as his muscular body turned and he slowly started to walk up the stairs to the bedroom.
I continued watching the Today Show and didn’t say anything, and when he eventually came down, having changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, he didn’t offer any explanations. In retrospect, it was an important moment in my understanding, subconsciously at least, that there was much more to being a Hemingway than I was aware of and that the dividing line between my father and my grandfather’s essential character was not nearly as great as most people might think. My family truly was, as Ernest had once described it, a Strange Tribe.