Sunday, June 21, 2015
Here we are again - Father’s Day. I still think about my Dad almost every day, but on this day of the year the feeling is a little different. I’ve already been alive on this Earth longer without a Dad than with one, and the missing connection is still raw and intense.
Memories of parents, loved ones and even brief acquaintances are cast in stone. The sands of time may alter some of the realities. But the lingering memories, which remain in our minds, create the icon that we look to when reminiscing through our archives.
My Dad was a consummate entertainer. He was a ladies man and a man’s man. He was also a salesman’s salesman. His very presence in a room was captivating. He told stories like nobody’s business and could easily reduce even the most staid person into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and happy tears. He was equally comfortable in large groups as he was in intimate settings, a valuable character trait that even some famous personalities today would envy.
I have mostly positive memories of him, and still look up to him as a key role model. Were he still around, I would be the first one in line to ask him for advice about all of life’s questions that keep tripping me up. Yet, I don’t mind telling you that for a lot of my life, I was terrified of the man. He had a commanding voice and, real or imagined, I sometimes felt scared and not quite good enough when he spoke to me. As I got older and slightly more mature, I felt a closer connection to him. It may have been my youthful insecurities that instilled a false sense of fear in my mind. But toward the end, even when he was lying on a hospital bed in our dining room, unable to speak, I always wondered if he would just sit up in the bed and get agitated about something.
There was such frustration on his part throughout the illness. Brain cancer, late diagnosis and a brain surgeon who was missing the gene for good bedside manner – you couldn’t concoct a more tragic outcome. One day he was lucid, literate and eloquent. Then, post-surgery, his gift of speech and reasoning had been repossessed. He hadn’t been told that he had cancer, so I can’t even imagine what he might have thought when he finally awoke from the surgery. He was unable to speak coherently, eat by himself, or even move the right side of his body. He was also not aware of his projected limited lifespan. It soon became our family’s experience that whatever “it” was, it was always the worst possible version of “it”.
These days, I have strange triggers for remembering him. When I am working out on the elliptical machine at the gym, and the ‘calories burned’ number gets to 419 (his birthday, April 19th) I think of him and smile. He had invested (badly, as it turned out) in the hydroponic tomato business; and to this day when I smell tomato plants, I think of the times that we would drive out together to visit the greenhouses. Every time I walk into a men’s restroom at a restaurant, I think of him and wonder if he would have approved of the level of cleanliness. (He was known for checking out the bathrooms of restaurants before being seated. Because he felt that if management couldn’t keep their bathrooms clean, could he really trust them to keep their kitchen clean?) He taught me how to drive a stick shift; that was fun. He would tell me that, 'back in the day' (that expression hadn’t been invented yet when he told me) he learned how to drive in a bakery truck. He would have to ‘double clutch’ to shift gears – that is, to shift out of gear into neutral, release the clutch, and then shift again into the next gear. I enjoyed demonstrating that to my daughters when I felt nostalgic, but I don’t think they were nearly as amused as I was during the actual demonstration.
One of the funniest stories that my Dad ever told me was the night he went out for a business dinner with some clients. While waiting for their table, drinks in hand, the phone began to ring. It was a busy night, so the maître d’ wasn’t at the front of the house. My Dad picked up the phone and began to speak, “Yes, table of six? When would you like to be seated? Yes, Mr. Jones, we look forward to seeing at 7:30.” Upon return, the maître d’ asked my Dad what he was doing. My Dad told him that no one was there to answer the phone, so he took a reservation for him – Jones, party of six at 7:30PM. The maître d’ was somewhat upset, not only because some stranger had answered the phone in his restaurant, but that some stranger had booked a reservation when there were no more open tables available for that evening. My father never said, but I’m sure his clients gave him their business after that night.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.