The Fatherly Questionnaire: Gay Talese
"The only thing that’s special about dinners is that they are preceded by dry gin martinis."
Gay Talese has spent a lifetime asking questions. Gay is the father of two adult daughters and the author of some of the best pieces of American magazine writing ever penned. Considered one of the pioneers of New Journalism, a genre where the writer becomes a part of the story, he’s perhaps best known for his Esquire essay, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” His new Netflix documentary, Voyeur, is an exploration of the desire to watch and the need to be seen. And he dearly appreciates a good dry gin martini.
What is your name?
I’m 85. I was born on February 7, 1932.
How old are your children?
My children are 55 and 52. They’re three years apart.
What are their names?
Pamela is the firstborn and hates to be called “Pam.” It’s Pamela. The second is Catherine.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Pamela is Pamela F., Pamela Francis Talese. That’s my father’s middle name. Catherine is named after my mother. She is Catherine Gay Talese. Obviously, I’m celebrated there.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your children?
No, determinedly no. There’s no nicknames.
What do they call you?
They call me “dad” not “daddy.”
How often do you see them?
Once a week, at minimum.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Full-time availability. That’s it.
Describe your father in three words.
Same. Full-time availability.
What are your strengths as a father?
I’m opinionated. Never queasy. Never afraid. I give opinions. Outspoken but not rude, but certainly outspoken.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
I can’t think of any.
What is your biggest regret as a father?
I have none.
Parenthetically, I have no grandchildren and never will. My daughters were both married for periods of time and chose not to remain married. That was their decision. Do I regret this? No. Do I feel maybe I’m closer to them because they don’t have husbands to worry about? Yes. Do I think maybe I’m responsible for their divorces, do I think maybe our relationship, for better or for worse, whatever the positive or negative sides of me toward them as their father, has affected their relationship with men? I worry about that. I don’t know what I would grapple with as a possible explanation. Why do I have two daughters both divorced, both childless? I can take a high road and say, “It’s because they never could match the man that is their father, they were looking for a father-replacement, and haha! They never found it.” I could gloat in that discovery, but I’m not sure it’s true.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children?
When I was younger, I’m 85 as I said, playing tennis was the thing we loved. My wife also, she’s not a good player, but as a foursome on the tennis court, we would play doubles. I would play with my younger daughter, Catherine. Pamela, who’s more athletic, would play with her mother. It was just fun, we really loved that. We don’t ski. I don’t ski. Actually, I don’t do anything physical anymore. My shoulders are ruined. Rotator cuff problems. I can’t lift weights and I can’t play tennis.
What has been the moment you’ve been most proud of as a parent, and why?
I think graduation from college was a high mark because I then felt they were women and I remember the pleasure in seeing my investment and my wife’s investment in their education, achieving a kind of celebration in this graduation ceremony.
What heirloom did your father give to you, if any?
I have certain objects of his: cufflinks, a watch, tie clips, certain ties, and clothes that he made. My father was a tailor and made my clothes. But the heirloom was not in the sense of an object but in the sense of a sentiment. What I have is a sentiment. A prideful father who took enormous pride in what he did for a living.
What heirloom do you want to leave to your children, if any?
Worldly possessions that Nan and I have, obviously, are going to be inherited since we have no other sources to leave things to. But what I’m going to leave to them, and I think my wife as well, is being people that appreciate doing well in jobs, and caring about what they do. Never take lightly the responsibility of doing a good job.
Describe the “dad special” for dinner.
The only thing that’s special about dinners is that they are preceded by dry gin martinis. And my daughters, Pamela and Catherine both, maybe in deference to me, do drink gin martinis when they’re with me. And even my wife takes a sip. So, the gin martini. It’s an old-fashioned drink. You see it in old movies.
Are you religious, and are you raising your children in that tradition?
Oddly, no. Now that we’re almost ready for a grave, we have no plans for a church funeral. Religion has, on one level, ceased to exist within us in our almost 60 years of marriage.
What is a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your children don’t repeat?
I don’t remember a mistake. From the time I was young, I would do the same thing again. I know it’s a cliché to say that. I don’t wish that I went to Harvard. I don’t wish that I became Stephen King and made millions of dollars. I don’t wish anything. In fact, I have no reason to complain about anything. There are no unfulfilled wishes here.
How do you make sure your children know that you love them?
I put it in writing. Just about every day I write a note and now I email with them. It’s always expressed personally and in writing, and on the telephone. It’s sincerely felt.
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