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The New Apples of Dad's Eye?

After learning her traditional father is hooked on 'Sex and the City,' a daughter examines their relationship.

April 21, 2002|MARIA ELENA FERNANDEZ

Three thousand miles away, not far from the aqua waters of the Atlantic, lives a 64-year-old Cuban man who is getting to know his daughter in an unconventional way.

This year, the man, who has lived his life surrounded by women (five sisters, a wife, two daughters and two granddaughters), has found the time to wrap himself up in the lives of four new women. I imagine this must have occurred accidentally, probably because he failed to change the channel after his favorite show, "The Sopranos." What is unthinkable, even now that I've had time to digest it, is that my dad has gotten hooked on "Sex and the City," a show in which the main character is a 35-year-old writer chronicling her quest for the One.

In episode after episode of the HBO series, Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) and her three girlfriends leave little to the imagination. They discuss their sex lives; they feel empowered when they can have sex "like a man"--that is, without emotional attachment. Yet they look for lasting love.

Simply put, nothing in Carrie's Manhattan world remotely matches my dad's Miami lifestyle. My father, Republican and Catholic, is as old-fashioned as they come. No one has taught me more about commitment and devotion. In his world, family comes first. It is from observing the way his wife and daughters have always been the priority that I have come to expect the same from my potential partners.

These are values I cherish, but it wasn't always easy. Growing up in the United States meant being exposed to modern ideas, individualistic ideals and huge dreams--things that often clashed with the conservative mores of my Cuban relatives.

Not that my father raised us to be submissive housewives. Education is a top priority in Cuban culture. I recall many conversations in which my father said it was important for us to earn college degrees so we would never have to depend on a man.

Seeing how my life is turning out, I have often wondered if he was clairvoyant--if somehow he knew his younger daughter was setting out on a path that would require her to be self-sufficient.

Which brings me back to my father's new favorite show. Single women in their 30s all over the country tune in to "Sex and the City" because it so precisely captures what it's like to be a strong, independent, self-confident woman in today's America. We relate to one or all of the women, contemplating while we watch, "Which one am I?"

There's even a "Sex and the City" Fabulon Quiz on the Web (www.hbo.com/gl/quiz1.swf) to help women sort out which character they most resemble: Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the carefree public relations diva who takes pride in sleeping with men all over Manhattan without falling in love with them; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), the tough, jaded attorney who doesn't believe in love; Charlotte (Kristin Davis), the hopeless romantic and conservative art dealer. Or Carrie Bradshaw, the newspaper columnist whose internal monologues narrate the show.

I don't live in Manhattan, but L.A. isn't exactly Fantasy Island when it comes to finding your soul mate. I'm 33; I'm single; I have many girlfriends in that demographic. We could not live without each other. I am a clotheshorse. I love shoes. I am a social butterfly. And I'm a writer. So it's Carrie to whom I can relate the most.

Now, it seems, my father does too.

This came up while I was having a routine telephone conversation with my mother and he grabbed the other extension. He wanted to know if the "Sex and the City" season was over. He explained that he thought he missed the season finale, but when I uncomfortably assured him he had seen it, he was relieved and hung up.

As my mother continued her story, that last episode of the HBO show ran through my mind. Dios mio! My father was watching when Samantha caught her boyfriend in a graphic oral sex moment with another woman. My father was watching when Charlotte went after her first post-divorce sexual partner. My father was watching when Miranda had her baby with the man she does not plan to marry by her side. And my father was watching as Carrie contemplated having sex with her ex-boyfriend.

How did this happen? I didn't think my father was the kind of man who could handle--much less enjoy--this type of TV program. "Pornography!" I can hear him saying. Yet he is watching. The same man who taught his daughters to resist sexual pressure in high school by saying "you do not want to be the ball that gets tossed around from guy to guy in your school" is using Carrie and company as a window into my world.

Not that I've even discussed this with Papi--the man who was stunned into a few days of silence when my sister, 27 and married for five years, announced she was pregnant, thereby revealing that, yes, she was having sex.

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