My father died on May 14th, or rather on this date 28 years ago. He was a month shy of 66, and I was two months shy of my 31st birthday. My son Peter, my firstborn and my dad’s first grandchild, was nine months old.
I think of my dad a lot, but never more than during this period between the day he died in the middle of May and his birthday in the middle of June. Sometimes when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, I have a sense he is sitting in my living room. I used to be afraid to look, but now I do because I so want to see him. He isn’t there.
I still miss my dad as much as I did when he first left all of us, suddenly, as he collapsed while playing tennis one Thursday evening. As I do now, I lived two hours from my parents at the time, but I had been fortunate to see my father twice during the week before he died. That Sunday my folks had come up to celebrate my first Mother’s Day with me. That Tuesday, they stopped by on their way to Manhattan to see a show.
In retrospect, I think he looked tired and was a bit quieter than usual that Mother’s Day. But what I remember most about the last few weeks before his death are two exchanges we had. I had taken a job a few afternoons a week doing administrative tasks for a small company. The work was not particularly interesting, but I had it in my head that I should not spend every hour at home. Still, the whole time I was at this office, I wanted to be with my baby and worried about whether his caretaker was doing a good job. On the day before he died, I called my father to ask what I should do. “If you’re unhappy, you should quit,” he said. “It’s okay, if you just want to stay at home right now.”
For himself, my dad was extremely practical, and he taught me many useful things about managing my everyday affairs. He also gave me confidence because I knew how much he believed in me. He had worked very hard so that his children could pursue their passions, and his message was that we should follow our dreams. I feel this is a big reason I’ve been able to persevere as a writer even though it has taken me years to find success with it.
The second exchange occurred a few weeks before my father’s death when I was visiting my parents at my childhood home in a suburb of Philly. We were taking Peter for a stroll in a nearby park when my dad turned to me and said, “You know, I always thought you’d do well at whatever you chose to pursue – but I hadn’t realized you’d be such a great mom.”
That was his biggest gift of all.
Photo: With my dad in Spain on my 21st birthday