I don’t think it was until my sophomore year of college that I truly grasped the concept that my parents had been people before I was born. Obviously, there were hints. I knew where they had grown up, that they met at the University of Texas and they didn’t get married until 15 years after graduation. But all of that was like filler that only served to explain the time they wasted before they made me.
I can’t remember which I found first — the picture of my dad, on a boat in Key West, already balding but undeniably young, or the UT yearbook photo of my mom, the same age then as I was looking at her — but it was a revelation that these people, who most likely had the same dreams and fears that I have had in my youth, could have eventually gotten around to being, well, the boring people I considered them.
There they were, still hungry and ready for a world that they had just begun to experience. They began to transform from being my mom and dad into tangible, complicated individuals.
Whenever I walk in for a couple of rounds of pool and beers with friends, I can see my dad, as young as I am now, sitting in a booth with his coworkers, sharing stories and laughing as much as he ever laughs.
The first bar my dad and I ever shared in common, and it’s probably the only one if I think about it, is the Stoneleigh P. When I moved to Uptown a year ago, there were the bars I was already familiar with — like Idle Rich and Renfields and 6th Street — because that’s where every 23-year-old in Uptown goes.
But just around the corner from my apartment, there was Stoneleigh P, a dark, seedy place that seemed to stick out from Uptown’s mantra of shots and long lines. The second night after I moved in, looking to go somewhere close, my roommate and I decided to try the P for some burgers and beers.
A few weeks later, while I was visiting my parents, I asked my dad if he had ever heard of the P, because I had noticed that it’s been around since 1973. He laughed as much as my dad ever laughs and told me that the Stoneleigh P had been his favorite spot when he was in his 20s.
My dad missed the Mad Men era of advertising by about a decade, so there weren't as many three-martini lunches to be had, but he said that he and most of his coworkers would find themselves at the P, unwinding from the long hours of being junior account executives at the Bloom Agency.
A few months ago, I met my dad at the P for lunch. He hadn’t been inside in nearly 20 years, he said, but it looked the same as he remembered it. He even swore that some of the old men up at the marble bar had been there the last time he was there.
We both had gumbo. I had a Franconia Wheat. He didn’t drink — pancreatitis had robbed him of that pleasure the year before in the kind of cyclical twists life is fond of introducing.
It’s that irony that stands strong in my mind. My father, who had always enjoyed a glass, lost alcohol because of alcohol, just as I was learning to enjoy it beyond the fraternity house. We never got to share a bar together, which, in my youthful opinion, is something of a right of passage.
But we have the P, in a way.
In a time when places have a troublesome tendency to exist for a blink of an eye, there’s something reassuring about how the P has maintained this corner of Uptown for more than 40 years, standing guard as young guns attempt in vain to establish themselves with gimmicks and false promises.
It is a time capsule that hold thousands of stories, including part of my father's and mine. Although we never were able to create memories there together, whenever I walk in for a couple of rounds of pool and beers with friends, I can see my dad, as young as I am now, sitting in a booth with his coworkers, sharing stories and laughing as much as he ever laughs.
It is not only a reminder that I am my parents’ child, but also that my parents were not always my parents. They had ambitions and hopes and fears and failures that shaped them along the way. And so, even though I cannot share a drink with my dad anymore, the Stoneleigh P gives me the closest approximation, and for that, I will carry the red neon sign with me wherever I go.