lights in the Caesar's Palace showroom went out, the audience hushed,
the rhythm section started to play, and a man began singing from
somewhere in the back of the room. "I'm so young and you're
so old, this Diana I've been told." Everyone turned to look
as a spotlight cast a smoke-filled beam through the darkness. I
turned too, but I couldn't see him yet. I knew that he'd appeared
though because people around us began to clap, even to stand up.
Then finally, I recognized his silhouette. As he walked closer,
I could make out his familiar smile; those bright white teeth against
his tan face. My stomach tightened and fluttered as he moved through
the audience, shaking hands, kissing cheeks, stopping along the
way for a picture. Suddenly he was standing right next to us. The
spotlight illuminated our table like a movie set, featuring four
unabashedly smiling little girls and their stoic mother. I wanted
him to reach out and grab my hand so badly, and at the same time
I wished that he would move on and take the spotlight with him so
everyone would stop staring at us. That man was Paul Anka, my father.
those days, we lived in Las Vegas. Spending my weekends at Circus
Circus Hotel playing carnival games, eating in hotel coffee shops
and making weekly visits to Leo the lion at the MGM Grand felt as
normal as having an entertainer for a father. I simply knew nothing
else. But most of the time my sisters and I swam, played in our
backyard, went to friends' houses, and busied ourselves with activities
just like other kids. And just like many other mothers, my mother
carted us around from one activity to another encouraging us to
discover our interests and talents.
he never said it, I think my father secretly wondered if there was
a potential entertainer among us. I also think he knew it wasn't
going to be me. Although I may have secretly fantasized about becoming
the next Marie Osmond or Karen Carpenter as I sat watching them
in some Vegas showroom, I was painfully shy, awkward looking --
glasses, chubby, bowed legs and an unfortunate Dorothy Hamill haircut
-- and found the spotlight to be terrifying. The only time I really
came out of my shell was when my sister Anthea and I were alone
in our playroom, singing and dancing to our collection of 45's.
If anyone else walked into the room, however, I beelined it to the
couch as if we were playing musical chairs and the music had come
to a sudden stop. On occasion, my eldest sister, Alex, decided to
play director or choreographer and enlist my sisters and me as stars
for her mini productions of Helen Keller, Grease or
her personal favorite -- an expanded version of the "Heatmiser,
Coldmiser" song from The Year Without A Santa Claus,
an animated puppet special that played every Christmas. I could
pull it off if the audience consisted of only my parents, but being
the center of attention was another story. Just the thought of it
made me sweat.
when my ballet teacher announced one day that we were going to have
a class recital and all the parents were invited, I felt the rumblings
of fear growing inside my four-year-old body. I'd just warmed up
to the idea of being in a leotard, and now I actually had to perform
in one -- in front of strangers! Even worse, shortly after, I found
out that my father was miraculously available that evening. Most
of the time he let my mother attend these sorts of events and on
this occasion, I would have been happy just to have her in the audience.
I was smart, I knew she was no professional, she too would be nervous.
But Dad? How could I match him? Like Las Vegas itself, he seemed
larger than life to me at that age. His energy amazed me, and his
fearlessness made me envious. He could get a shot at the doctor's
office without crying, sleep without a nightlight, recite joke after
joke to tables of people, not to mention sing in front of thousands!
But somehow, a kernel of excitement wormed its way into me as well.
If I can pull this off, there might be hope for me yet! Mom and
Dad will be so proud, and I won't have to share the attention with
any of my sisters.
night of the big recital arrived. My parents and I said goodbye
to my sisters -- who were thankfully staying at home with a babysitter
-- and left for the dance studio. I sat buckled up in the backseat,
sweating bullets in my wool coat, pink leotard and tutu, contemplating
jumping out of the car at each red light. Knowing that a four-year-old
in ballet slippers wouldn't get far, I stayed quiet and tried to
will my nausea away by staring intently at the back of my mother's
seat. Don't think about it, I told myself. Think about what Anthea
is doing right now. She's probably watching The Price is Right.
I wish I were watching The Price is Right.
wrong with her? She's so quiet," my father whispered.
Paul," my mother whispered back." Leave her be. She's
probably just a little nervous."
little? She looks green," he said. He looked at me in the rearview
mirror. "You a little nervous, Lish?" He asked.
a little," I managed to squeak out.
do what Daddy does, forget about the audience," he said. "Just
do your thing and have fun."
he does? My thing? My thing as the introverted middle child with
four (at the time three) extroverted sisters was to either share
the spotlight or let everyone else revel in it while I enjoyed life
in the shadows as the silent observer.
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