Mindy Fried has written a book about her father, the late Emanuel "Manny" Fried, the acclaimed actor and playwright, as well as labor activist and educator.
"Caring for Red: A Daughter's Memoir" (Vanderbilt University Press), 173 pages) shares what it was like for Mindy Fried to grow up with her father, and then later to be a caregiver for the fiercely independent man who died at age 97 in 2011.
Manny Fried was born into a working-class Jewish household in Brooklyn before moving to Buffalo at an early age. He graduated from
Hutchinson-Central High School, and later married into a prominent Buffalo family that owned the Park Lane restaurant and apartment.
Fried was brought up twice before the House Un-American Activities Committee, in 1954 and 1964, for his leftist political views. Refusing to answer questions out of principle, he was blacklisted by the FBI and forced to find work with a Canadian company selling life insurance.
Fried later went to the University at Buffalo to complete a bachelor's degree, and went on to get a Ph.D. He taught at SUNY Buffalo State College as a full-time professor and later as an adjunct. Meanwhile, he acted and wrote plays.
Revered by the local theater community, the Subversive Theatre in 2008 named the Manny Fried Playhouse after him.
In honor of Manny and Mindy Fried, a two-day event entitled "Fried & Fried in Buffalo" will take place at SUNY Buffalo State, University at Buffalo and Burchfield Penny Art Center. The three events will blend literature, scholarship and the arts with the issues of caregiving and aging with dignity.
Q: What was your relationship like with your father?
A: He was somebody who was a fighter and who stood up for his beliefs through thick and thin. As his daughter, he supported me through everything. He was a fighter for me, too.
My father was a challenging personality. He wasn’t always a great listener, but I learned how to dialogue with him. As I got older, I would stop him and tell him to listen to me. Sometimes I would go to organizing meetings with him, and I would notice that people would talk on and on and on. I would ask him why he let them go on so long, and he’d say because everybody needs to have a voice.
He immersed himself in union organizing work, as an actor and as a playwright, and absorbed a lot. He was very loving, and on my side absolutely.
When I had issues with work, he was always brilliant and insightful, and helped me work through difficult times. For many, many years, he was really my closest friend.
Q: What was it like for you when your father appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee?
A: He was subpoenaed twice, and at at these two different time periods, my sisier and I were each 13 when it happened. It was very hard for both of us. When my dad was subpoenaed i the 1950s, a time when HUAC was popularly accepted, my sister was kicked out of a carpool and ostracized by friends. I had a similar experience, but it was a different time period, nearly 10 years later. Social movements were starting to bloom in the '60s, and there was less acceptance of HUAC's scare politics.
Still, my middle-class Jewish friends were told not to hang out with me. My dad suggested I hang out with the working-class kids. I ended up being best friends with a girl a couple blocks away who made her own lunches, smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, and whose parents would swear in front of her. She was a wonderful friend. No one seemed to care about HUAC in that family. It was a whole other world.
What I learned from my dad was to just keep marching on. If there are people who reject you, then find kindred spirits.
Q: Did your father's blacklisting take a toll in other ways?
A: My mother's family owned the Park Lane. We had two different ideologies represented within the family, even though my parents found a way to connect. My mother was thrown out of the family business for a period of time after my father's first subpoena.
My father put his beliefs ahead of the needs of his family, but at the same time I believe he was doing the right thing. How does a child make sense of that? For me, one way to resolve that misalignment was to follow the path of my father, and to absorb some of the same political values he had.
Q: How difficult was it to decide to put your father in an assisted living facility?
A: It was difficult. Commonly, the one thing that precipitates someone going into an institution is a fall. For thousands of older people -- and this is why we need to be doing our balancing activities at ages 40, 50, 60-- a fall is really the beginning of the end. When my father fell, he was terrified. He lost control and was hallucinating, and he really hurt himself badly.
We had talked to him for a long time about how he needed support, but being Manny, he was resistant until that point.
Q: It was important for your father to continue living in Buffalo.
A: The world my father lived in in Buffalo was so nurturing and supportive and validating of who he was, that the notion of moving him to another city where he wasn’t known as a person with a powerful history of accomplishments would have beaten the life out of him. We supported his stay in Buffalo, and worked hard to to be as much with him as we could.
Q: You write how the experience of caregiving can be fraught with guilt.
A: This experience of caregiving is so isolating. There is a feeling a lot of people have that they didn't do enough. They feel some guilt with this incredible burden, like you’re carrying a horse across the road. It’s such an enormous job.
Part of my mission is that I feel I have this incredible opportunity to talk to people about caregiving as a social issue, and not simply as a private experience. I think it’s really important for people to see their experience as part of a broader picture. Almost one-third of the American population are caregivers, and yet, peopled don’t tend to talk to other people as much as they could about what it’s actually like.
We were very fortunate to have the resources to hire an outside caregiver to come in and spend time with my dad. Medicare and Medicaid kick in for nursing home care, but assisted living is out of pocket. It's a class-tiered system, and there are a lot of elder care issues that need to be addressed at a policy level.
We have a long way to go as a culture and society to ensure that all of our elders have access to the same resources, and can live their final years with dignity.
"Fried & Fried in Buffalo" events:
On Friday, "Forum on Aging, Care giving and Social Policy" will be held at 2 p.m. in Allen Hall on the University at Buffalo's South Campus.
At 7 p.m., "Fried & Fried: Crossing Generations" will be presented at 7 p.m. at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave. Fried will read excerpts from her book, preceded by a reading from the play, "The Un-American," by Anna Kay France, based on the autobiographical novel by Manny Fried. Artvoice Theater Editor Anthony Chase, and actors Richard Lambert, Lisa Vitrano, Philip Knoerzer and Greg Natale will take part.
On Saturday, "Intersection: Social Justice and Theatre Arts" will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Allen Hall, featuring local actors reading from "The Mark of Cain" by Gary Earl Ross, followed by a discussion with several artists.
All three weekend events are free.