The first time I ever went to a wax museum was in London in the late 1980s. There were figures of Charles and Diana, Sarah Ferguson, Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and a host of other 80’s icons. It was surreal, creepy, cool and fun all at once. I watched as people posed with the wax figures. What I found hilarious was that so many would get in a serious pose, as if they had met the actual “star” on the sidewalk. They would politely lean in and say “cheese.” I remember thinking: “Why on earth would you take an experience like this so seriously?” I made it my mission to take as many staged and silly pictures as I could. Twenty years later I went to the wax museum in Las Vegas and witnessed the same thing: several people politely posing with the wax figures. Again, I spent the entire time entertaining myself. I pretended to have conversations with Abraham Lincoln or an interview with Oprah. I “performed” with the Rat Pack. I joked with Al Roker. I had zero inhibitions and I didn’t care who was watching. I’m an introvert by nature, but my attitude was “I’ll never see these people again anyway.” Was I always like this? No way!
Growing up, there was nothing worse to me than standing out. I didn’t want to stand out and I certainly didn’t want my parents to stand out. This was problematic when it came to my Dad because he was all about standing out. He was loud, funny, silly and loved to tease me. I remember going to visit him in Colorado in the mid-70s. He was a disc jockey at a large radio station. He brought my sister and I to the station. We were excited because he had told us we were going to have a chance to be on the radio. When we walked in the office, I saw a paneled wall full of 8x10 head shots of all the radio personalities. There they all were, smiling into the camera, hair perfectly coiffed. I don’t remember any pictures of women, but I remember that all the men were wearing a shirt and tie in their photos—all except one that is. My Dad was wearing a white “wife beater” t-shirt, a backwards baseball cap and he had a cigar in his mouth, Groucho Marx-style. Of course, it was meant to be funny and was aligned with his on-air persona. But to my eight-year old self, he might as well have been posed on a busy street, nude. I remember feeling mad. How could he embarrass me this way?
Years later, when I was in college, he came to visit and take me out for dinner. I thought I was way past all that “being embarrassed by my Dad” stuff, that is until I saw him walking up the stairs to my dorm wearing his Sherlock Holmes hat. WTF Dad?!! But that was him. It was my issue, not his. He was simply being himself (although I think the fact that I was consistently mortified by him was, in his mind, an added bonus). He was always trying to get me to loosen up and have more fun. I resented it. Why couldn’t he just accept me for who I was? The truth was, I was envious. I wanted to be more like him and not give a rip about what people thought. I wanted to be such a great story-teller that people formed a circle around me at parties. I wanted to have that same charisma that he exuded so easily.
What I came to realize is that I have my own gifts—gifts that my Dad didn’t have. I realized that people felt comfortable confiding in me. I gave them a safe space and really listened. I was sensitive to people’s feelings. I was able to empathize. I had high EQ before EQ was a term. It took a long time to appreciate what I bring to the table. For so long I compared myself to others and wished to be all the things that I wasn’t. And because of this, I was often miserable. Wishing or trying to be something you’re not is like being a wax figure in a museum. You’re just an imposter. It’s not fulfilling and it’s a betrayal of your true, wonderful self. But, sometimes you naturally and organically grow into some of the qualities you want to have.
As I got older, I became way more willing to be silly in public. Whether it be a wax museum, the pool at the hotel, a corn maze in New Hampshire—whatever the case may be—I no longer care if someone rolls their eyes or raises a disapproving eyebrow. It doesn’t matter. I’m being ME. Now when I get into “public silly mode,” I can’t help but wonder if my Dad is watching me, feeling a bit of smug satisfaction and saying in that teasing, sing-song tone I remember so well, “I told you so!”