Don’t Get Mad, Get Vlad!

by marinashifrin

My dad wore a Speedo to our neighborhood swimming pool when I was little. I had two choices; die of embarrassment or become a humorist — I chose both.

Anything your parents do when you are ten years old is embarrassing. When they do it wearing a bright green Speedo, that’s a whole other story. Actually, it’s my story:

My full name is Marina Vladimirovna Shifrina, there’s no getting around it: I’m Russian. When you walk into my parent’s house Olga will pour you homemade borscht while Vladimir pours you a shot. That’s just how it is.

In 1997 Olga and Vladimir decided to move our family to the jewish neighborhood of Highland Park — a land where nose jobs where more popular than blow jobs, and the only drugs being done were ones prescribed by therapists. It was a suburban utopia if you must.

Olga and Vladimir: My 2nd favorite photograph ever taken.

A neighborhood full of the perfect families, in their perfect homes and perfect lives meant one thing: I didn’t stand a chance. So I hatched a plan; lay low, hide all my idiosyncrasies, and hope the years of suppression didn’t boil into a news headline in the future.

This plan backfired the first time my family went out in public, Hidden Creek Aqua Park-public to be more specific.

My dad would stride around the water park with his belly pointed outward and his chest pointed upward. It didn’t bother him no one else was wearing a Speedo or that he was getting sideways glances. I would get so mad, he wasn’t letting me pass under the radar, melt into the crowd and conform into what would’ve metastasized suburban suicide a.k.a becoming a housewife.

At the time though, I didn’t get it. I didn’t get Vladimir. I remember begging him to please put on swimming trunks like everyone else.

“But Marina, Speedo makes me feel more free,” his thick Russian accent would saturate the words, exaggerating all the Rs. Vladimir was proud of who he was and what he was wearing. How can you argue with that?

Mini Me and Vladimir (rocking the Speedo): My number one favorite photograph ever taken.

Now, I am not sure if my father’s choice of swimwear was meant to be a life lesson, but that’s what it has become.

I have never felt pressure to go a certain direction or to fit a certain standard because of Vladimir. All he ever asked of me was to take pride in what I did and who I was.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not as emotionally or mentally stable as my writing may imply. I get insecure, and I am constantly questioning every decision I make down to my eyeliner thickness for the day.  I want to be a stand up comic this week, and a novelist the next. I don’t know what I am doing or where I am going, but just knowing I have a short Russian man backing my every move makes it okay.

Who knows what would have happened if my parents took the route of blending into the neighborhood we moved into. I probably would have a straighter nose and been more committed to the eating disorder I’ve always wanted.

All I know is, thanks to my dad, I had that push to stand out, feel free and be proud of who I was.

Lesson #15: No matter what you do in life, do it wearing a Speedo.

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