Building a Home

After graduating law school, I moved to New York. I wanted to be an actor. And, after 20 years of sitting in a classroom I was going to take some classes that I was truly passionate about.  I enrolled in The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and then needed to find a job.

I found a classified ad for a houseman.  A houseman is someone who takes care of the maintenance and upkeep of a house or in this case an apartment.  I went on the interview and got the job.  By the way, I also had a Juris Doctor and was licensed to practice law in Michigan.  I worked for a multi, multi-millionaire who is now a multi-billionaire on Park Ave. The staff consisted of 8 people: 

  • The House Manager (who had a PhD in English) – who took care of managing the staff, taking care of the finances, booking trips for the family and managing the wife’s calendar.
  • The Chef
  • The Chauffeur
  • The Maid (MS Engineering)
  • The Houseman (JD)
  • The Governess – Managed the kids

When I began working for the family as a houseman, they just returned from a year abroad.  They had taken all three kids, who were 8, 12 and 14, to live in 3 different countries: Germany, India, England.  They had kept the entire house staff for the year and paid them.  Since they pulled the kids out of school, the governess and a tutor or several tutors had accompanied the family on their travels.  The family had just returned from their trip and the rest of the house staff had begun work again.  

My duties included maintaining the property on Park Ave and a brownstone they owned close by, running errands for the lady of the house (and when there were too many of those, the chauffeur would drive me around town), I would restock the wine cellar with bottles from the estate in upstate New York, and every day I would deliver the owner’s lunch to his office and hand it to his personal assistant after it was prepared by his chef.  Lastly, I had to clear off the dining room table every night of rare books (and had to replace them every morning) so the parents could be served dinner, while the children ate separately in the kitchen.

This houseman position was the perfect job for a struggling actor in New York.  The pay was great, the schedule was flexible, and the experience was eye opening.

During my tenure as a houseman, I had the opportunity to experience how this uber-rich family lived some parts of their lives. Since the house staff was on the premises most of the day and was tasked with everything from caring for the kids to managing the finances and travels of the family to fixing and maintaining the residence to cooking, serving and cleaning up after every meal to chauffeuring the members around the city and beyond, the house staff knew everything, and I mean everything about the family.  Personal issues and every gory detail about the children, about the family and issues within the marriage.  The house up-state even had a husband-and-wife caretaking team that lived on the premises and managed the daily activities, maintenance and support of that property.           

The children were driven around daily from school to activities by the chauffeur.  Meals were eaten, at least at dinner separately.  The chef would serve the kids in the kitchen, while the parents ate later and more formerly in the dining room.  The governess, who lived on the premises, typically attended to the children, depending on their age, once they got home from school all the way until bedtime. There were many other people in place, from assistants to subordinates whose jobs were strictly to cater to the needs of the family and the families’ affairs. Looking back, and after having a family of my own, I realize now that the most cherished moments of my childhood and my kids were spent together at the dinner table, came from conversations that were had during long or short car rides to hockey, baseball or football games or dance competitions or recitals or family vacations. 

A home is a sacred and safe place where we are meant to experience all the ebbs of flows of marriage, child rearing and life itself. 

Having a studio audience of chefs, chauffeurs, personal assistants, governesses, maids, caretakers, house managers and house men constantly observing and taking part in every family episode creates overwhelming challenges.          

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