My father died in June 10th, 2013, six days before Father’s Day. He was 89 and he passed away smiling, lying in his own bed under his favorite pale yellow coverlet with his children at his side. We should all be so lucky to leave the earth the way my father did. As Father’s Day 2015 approaches, I came to some new revelations about this man, my father, who was by no means terribly complex yet deeply clear in whom he was. This new knowledge is not recent discoveries of long held dark secrets; rather these are small nuggets of understanding I uncovered in his absence, as I faced personal challenges, searched for any kind of balance and tried to find that elixir to happiness we seek. There are things I wish I had said to him, face to face, over poached eggs and bacon at his favorite breakfast haunt or while sharing linguine with him at the dinner table. Are these profound statements? Well, they are deeper thoughts than just thank you’s and warm reveries. To me, they are profound in an everyday way, like him.
- You always left the door open.
You were the kind of parent that set guidelines for living an honest life. You never locked the door to experience and left it to us to choose how far to go. If we went too far, the door was still open, even just a little, so we were never out of your good grace. Our mistakes were ours to own. The open door proved infinitely more powerful than a closed one.
- I needed you more than I let on.
When Mom died in 2005, none of us thought you would make it on your own. You proved all of us wrong. Not only did you make it, you showed us how to make a life for yourself that was enviable. You learned to cook and more importantly, to love again. When my husband of 24 years died quickly, you made me look for the part of me that could smile again and showed me that my heart, worn and tear-stained, could and will love again. Without you, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it.
- I didn’t know I could hurt you, Dad.
I wonder if anyone feels this way: I thought my dad was made of steel. I could say almost anything to him, even deeply hurtful things, and he always forgave me. I didn’t consider how his feelings could be hurt, perhaps more easily than he showed. Hindsight is always 20/20 and my rearview mirror shows my tongue could cut deeper than any blade. I wish I had been more sensitive.
- Who I am today is in large part due to who you were.
You worked for your entire life. Born on the streets of New York, you had talent, ambition and the most valuable asset of all: a belief in yourself. You instilled that recognition of self in each of your four children. Three of us chose the same business you did – your three daughters. That is not a fluke but a statement of who you were. I remember you saying: work hard and honestly at what you love-the success and money will come. You were right.
- You had my back.
I never felt alone as a child or as your adult daughter. Though you raised fiercely independent daughters, I think each of us knew you were there without question. You raised us to embrace our own lives, make them into what we wanted them to be but to never forget where we came from. We didn’t, Dad, because we knew you would always be there, our own North Star.
- I wish I had recorded your life story.
As you got older, we spent more and more time talking about your childhood. And what a childhood it was-on the streets of Italian Harlem, in the shadow of Rae’s restaurant, in the boiling street-life of a Depression era immigrant population. Why didn’t I make the time to record what you said? I haven’t got a real answer, sadly. Just the answer I regret: I didn’t make the time.
- I am proud to be your daughter.
At a certain point, we were both old enough to understand who were as people, not just as father and daughter in the protective cloche of family. You were feisty; a sometimes outspoken artist with a positive view of the world that still astounds me. I am a strong-minded creative person, mother and independent woman: I was humbled by you in every way and my worldview is fairly positive, but I work at it. Your view seemed to come naturally to you.
My father didn’t cure a disease, or make millions of dollars buying and selling a company, or have an alphabet after his name, but he had something different than any of those things. He had a positive glint that could not be dulled by any of challenges he faced. And he had several- he lost his wife of 50 years, had several cancers and a heart bypass. Any one of those would have felled a lesser man. I think the following anecdote says it all about my Dad, his life and why I admire and miss him so much. Four years ago (my dad was 87), I got a call from a close friend at 8PM on New Years Eve.
He said this:
“ Hey, I think I see your dad here at Ruby’s (a local bistro), at the bar with his friend Mary (his 82 year old main squeeze after my mom passed). Yeah, that’s him. They are at the bar, all dressed up, eating oysters and drinking champagne.”
Yes, that was my father on New Years Eve 2011. By the way, I was home eating popcorn in my granny gown, by myself, watching TV under a blanket. Not an oyster in sight.