The author and her father, Leon Rosenthal, on her wedding day in 1987. Photo courtesy of Betsy R. Rosenthal

Meant to Be: It’s all in the name


“I’m single!”

These words were emblazoned on a scarlet T- shirt my father, a highly unsuccessful amateur matchmaker, gave me. I was barely 20, not yet a college graduate. My father had taken on the role of the Jewish mothers of his day. It was long before the birth of computers and JDate and eHarmony. My dad was advertising my availability the best way he knew how.

“You have a son in his early 20s? Here’s my daughter’s number. Have him give her a call,” he’d say to anybody he met who had eligible sons.

He wasn’t looking for any old single guy, of course. He had to be a “nice Jewish boy.” Whenever I told him I was going out with someone, his most pressing question was, “What’s his last name?” We all knew what that was code for. Irked that he was meddling in my personal life and annoyed by his obsession with my finding a Jewish guy, I’d toss non-ethnic surnames in his face — Courtney, Hamilton or Wilson. Sometimes our phone conversations while I was in college went like this:

“I gave your number to Arthur Goldberg’s son, so you can meet him when you come home for winter break. He’ll probably be calling you soon.”

“I’ve been going out with someone here.”

“Oh? What’s his name?”

“Christian.”

Uncomfortable pause.

He didn’t even bother asking for Christian’s last name.

And when I dated a guy named Roy, I’m pretty sure my father called him “Roy the goy” behind my back.

He was far from keen on the couple of boyfriends I brought home from college. “What’s wrong with that guy? Who puts mayonnaise on a Hebrew National hot dog? Sacre bleu,” he said about one of them. To my father, this abomination was the equivalent of a synagogue desecration. Even I thought a faux pas like that happened only in Woody Allen movies.

To throw my dad off track, though, I would bring home Jewish guys for the Passover seder. He’d breathe a sigh of relief, shower my guest with warmth, and proceed with the usual interrogation: Where’s your family from? What are you studying? These Jewish friends brought me a temporary reprieve from my dad’s matchmaking efforts, and he never learned that I had no romantic interest in them.

Eventually, I moved far enough away from my parents’ home in the Bay Area that I became geographically undesirable for any bachelors they might dredge up. I left my “I’m Single!” shirt folded in the bottom of a drawer in my bedroom at my parents’ house.

When I left town, it was a sad day for my big brother, who still lived nearby. My dad turned his matchmaking high beams on him. My brother eventually grew so annoyed with my dad’s forwarding all these incompatible women his way that he sent my dad an itemized bill:

Meals: $200

Gas: $50

Pain and suffering: $300

I had relocated to Los Angeles to attend law school and stayed after graduation to work as a lawyer. One day, I called my parents and told them that I was taking a trip to Vancouver with someone special and that we’d like to stop in San Francisco to see them on our way back to L.A.

“What’s his name?” my dad predictably asked.

“David,” was all I divulged.

When David and I got there, my parents hosted one of their signature hot dog barbecues in my honor. David passed all the tests. He appropriately slathered mustard and sauerkraut on his Hebrew National dog. He and my brother sang with gusto, “Harvey and Sheila. Harvey and Sheila. Oh, the day they met.” Shockingly, David knew all the lyrics to a bunch of Alan Sherman songs. He even talked real estate with my dad — a field they both worked in.

My mom’s reaction to David was surprisingly tepid. “He’s kind of nice,” she said to me in a private moment. Years later, she confessed her fear that if she had let on how crazy she was about him, contrarian that I was, I would have dumped him as if he were carrying the bubonic plague.

A mere four months after our visit with my parents, I called them to announce that I was getting married. I could hear my dad suck in his breath over the phone. “To David?” he asked.

“Yes, Dad. David. … David Rosenthal,” I said.

“Well, you certainly couldn’t have chosen a guy with a better name!” my dad, Leon Rosenthal, exclaimed.

My dad stuck around long enough to see me married for 27 years to a man he adored — they became the best of friends — to pop his buttons at the bar and bat mitzvahs of his grandchildren and to celebrate two of their college graduations.

After he died, I was emptying my parents’ house to put it on the market, when I uncovered the “I’m Single” T-shirt in my old room. For half a second, I thought about giving it to my daughter, who was 22 at the time.

Was I turning into my dad? Then I realized that that wouldn’t necessarily be so bad.

Betsy R. Rosenthal is an author of ​numerous children’s books​. Her essays have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines.

+