My father, Vince Arcuri Jr., spent his 40-year career literally and figuratively climbing the ladder of corporate success. He walked the beams framing New York City skyscrapers and then served as an executive at well-known contractors based in the city, such as Turner and Tishman and AMEC.
He retired several years ago with the title of senior vice president.
We share the same name. And like most fathers, mine dreamed that his young and only son would grow up to follow in his footsteps.
My dad and I enjoyed building toy skyscrapers, but I much preferred playing with my sisters’ Barbie dolls or marching up and down the street with my red, white and blue baton. As the years passed, I grew to be a very different kind of man. While he watched football, I watched soap operas. While he enjoyed a beer with the boys, I liked to gossip with the girls.
As a toddler, I had my very own banana-yellow plastic toy hardhat. At 10 years old, I donned my first professional hardhat to tour a site with Dad. We boarded a rickety service elevator secured to the building’s facade and rode it to the top floor. We walked on to a concrete slab surrounded by steel columns and nothing else. I was petrified and captivated by the spectacular views. That massive shell of concrete and steel would soon become the Irving Trust building in downtown Manhattan, a stunningly simple, white tiered building in the shadows of the Twin Towers.
During my childhood, I spent plenty of days on the job with Dad, but it was obvious life on a construction site was not for me. All those rugged construction workers in their hardhats and boots intimidated me. I felt much more at home in the on-site trailer surrounded by female secretaries, answering telephones and flipping through blueprints as I entertained the ladies with my stories.
While my parents nurtured the hope that I would become an architect, I enjoyed drawing up furniture and room layouts based on the sets of my favorite television shows.
But I did not share my father’s fascination with a career in the construction business and in reshaping the New York City skyline. All I could think about was working outside in the freezing rain and snow, suspended 50 stories above Manhattan, the slightest slip ending my career, not to mention my life.
I had my own, very different dream: to become an entertainer and live a life of fame and fortune, far away from concrete and cranes. Well, my dream is still a work in progress, but I’m forever grateful to have shared one special chapter of my father’s dream.
The Lipstick Building
When I was 15 years old, my dad and mom took me to a topping-out ceremony at one of the most admired buildings in all of New York City: the Lipstick Building. Designed by architect Philip Johnson as a majestic, reddish-hued granite- and-steel oval, the building was hailed as an architectural gem.
As my mother and I stood on what would soon become a famed corner—53rd at Third—we watched my father sign his name to that final steel beam. As other crew members signed their names, I noticed my father briskly making his way toward us through the crowd. Abruptly, he grabbed my arm, shoved a black Sharpie into my hand and instructed me to sign the beam as well.
Perplexed by his decree, I turned my face toward him with an expression of doubt, but his enthusiasm instantly reassured me. The next thing I felt was exhilaration. I squeezed my scrawny frame between brawny men and signed directly below my father’s name.
Those signatures are buried now beneath layers of wallboard, cement and granite. Despite our many differences, high in the Manhattan skyline—the same skyline my father shaped—he and I share a small piece of territory on that steel beam.
I now live my life as a proud and openly gay man, but I waited until I was almost 30 to reveal the truth about myself to my devoutly Catholic parents. On the day some years later when I nervously revealed to them that I was gay, they both responded with one simple word:
I cherish that moment of open-hearted support just as I cherish that piece of steel in Manhattan.