You can have all the conversations in the world with a loved one, until you’re no longer able to have them, and you still want one more. What you wouldn’t give. One more talk to clarify things from your past. One more embrace with meaning. One more batch of silliness to draw laughs. One more episode of Monk to watch together. One more time to draw closer.
This is the first picture taken of me and my father, I believe. I’m guessing that because my mom, always a fanatic for photo albums, wrote “3 weeks” right below it. My father’s smile is one I’d come to love for years, one I’d yearn to see for the next fifty-five.
But this is my favorite picture of us. It’s been on my mantel forever, wherever I lived, whoever I lived with, it was there. Both of us young, babies, staring into the camera. My father was only 19 at the time. Can you imagine?
The innocence of us both.
I have countless pictures of us over the years, most of which I adore, the memories fond, unforgettable, forever a part of me, defining me, for better or for worse.
The jokes he’d tell, I still tell strangers, with the disclaimer that, after we’ve shared the laugh, I’d been telling those jokes for fifty years. It’s hard to tell those jokes without crying now. I can hardly get through them, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to. I don’t know whether I look forward to the day I can or even if that day will ever come.
“I don’t know where I’m going to get the $10,000.” “Well, you had your mouth on the other end.” “Then stick it out the window and cool it off.” “One smart fellow, he felt smart.” My favorite punchlines, and tongue-twisters, made me chuckle for a lifetime.
My father was funny, witty, sharp as a tack. He had the magnetism and charisma to make an impression on anyone he’d met, good if you loved him, bad if you’d crossed him. He was, without a doubt, the baddest motherfucker I’d ever known. Forget athletes as role models. Dad was my rock star. This man, who stood 5-foot-6 at best, was larger than life to me. There was no runner-up role model, not even close. I’d crave his approval and be crushed by his harshness, seeking to understand it, yet the clues always resided within his own upbringing, having no father of his own. My dad was winging it the entire time.
My dad was thrust into fatherhood with no handbook yet there I was seeking a father from a man who never had one. He could only be him, for better or for worse.
My father made such an impression on people that in his final five months of living at a facility where nurses and med techs cared for him round the clock when we couldn’t, upon his passing, there was not a dry eye in the building. One nurse, with whom he shared the desire to sing a song for a talent show, sang it for him, by his bedside, as his health continued to decline. The song was the Man from La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream,” lyrics as if written for him. She sang by his side as he could only listen, no longer able to speak. Cancer can go fuck itself.
Another nurse was inconsolable upon his passing. Another, struggling to make ends meet, would cook dinner for him out of her own pocketbook. He made an immeasurable impact on so many: my mother, his first love and junior high school sweetheart never wanting to say goodbye; my girlfriend who cared for him unconditionally out of love for me and came to know my father in a way few had, loved him dearly; her teenage boys, rejuvenated a lifeline in him he so dearly needed in the end.
I can’t stop crying and don’t know that I ever will. I’m among the last of my friends to lose their father. It is a time, an experience, a pain, and an emptiness I never thought I’d feel, the moment I simultaneously became more of a man and less of one, as I, alongside my beautiful partner, watched my father’s final breath, holding his hand and weeping.
I am grateful for every moment I ever shared with him: the good, and there were plenty, along with the trying, and there were plenty of those as well. Our relationship was complicated and could be contentious, but it never lacked love. More than ever before, I crave his embrace, his loving touch, his inimitable wit, and his wisdom.
I only wish I held within me his conviction, his level of fight, and his absolute fearlessness. That came from his upbringing, one of five children, whose mother loaded them on a train cross country from Blackfoot, Idaho to New York City after their father passed away when my dad was only three. My father hustled his way from the mail room to become general manager of one of America’s most successful automobile companies in the nation. His was legend of hard work, toil, and trouble.
I always joke that my father could sell a car to anyone but once you lifted the hood, he couldn’t tell you anything thing about how the car worked. He didn’t need to. He knew how people worked and that was good enough.
My father, flawed, strong, kind, small, large, magnanimous, smart, sharp, resolute, lost his bout with cancer at the age of 75, after fighting, and beating, his first case of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 20. Cancer finally got the best of my father, but not before he gave it every haymaker he could land.
I don’t know how I’ll get by without him, but I know I will because I carry within me his strength and will. If that is even half of his, I must have faith that will be good enough.
I’m gonna miss that man. I choose to remember only the good because that’s who he was deep down inside his tough veneer. I am his only son but in Brandy, he gained a daughter.
Within his last month with me, his skin paler, his muscles atrophied, his appetite all but gone, he told me I was a good son. It might have taken 55 years to hear that, maybe he’d said it in the past, maybe not enough for me to digest, but that afternoon, strolling by the lake with him, I heard it loud and clear.
And that made me happy.
I love you, Dad. I always have and I always will.