The Books Of Our Fathers
You can tell a lot about a person by the books they surround themselves with. My dad’s bookcases were filled with hundreds of books, ranging from ones about his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Mets, to many about health and wellness. Books on Judaism, rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr, and philosophy stocked his shelves. He won’t be reading them anymore. He died June 2nd.
The pile of textbooks about The Roman Empire and Ancient Greece that he’d read just a few years ago, in his bid to earning a college degree that eluded him 50 something years ago, just sit where he’d left them. They represent the unfinished business of life.
When recently thumbing through his collection of books, I came across a number of old books that I remember discovering as a little boy. Like then, I was seeing who my dad was through his books. Until recent years he used to be an avid reader. From him, I embraced a passion for the written word – books, newspapers, magazines. From him, I fell in love with writing and using it as a way to not only reflect life but to reimagine it. From him, I found my liberal voice and learned that words and ideas can combat injustices. And now, from him, I’m learning how to live with him only in memory and heart.
I’ve begun sorting through his things, starting with his books, perhaps because that is one of the best ways that I relate to him. Books have always been a happy, familiar, safe place for me. I feel at ease when I begin to look at his books and get reminded of what he found of interest and importance.
This Father’s Day will be my first – for the rest of my life – without him. It will be sad not to see him on the day that he truly earned and always deserved. I will celebrate being a dad to my two children, 8 and 11, but I will mourn the loss of the person who helped me become who I am. His memory and teachings will fuel who I remain to become.
I used to have serious conversations with my dad at a really young age. We talked about the Vietnam War, life and death, politics, human rights, the underdog, and of course, baseball. He played stickball with me and then coached my Little League team for many years. He was always around the apartment, there if I ever needed anything. He loved being around his family to the point he didn’t see the need for friends. Though that caused an imbalance in his life, it meant that we were super close when I was growing up. We were like brothers or buddies more than father and son.
He wasn’t an extraordinary man. That may seem strange for someone eulogizing their father, but not only is it true, it puts things into perspective. Too often we overplay and build up what we say things and people had been; I instead enjoy saying how things were and honoring them. His accomplishments did not come from his career and hjs rewards weren't expressed by material things. His life was a series of hugs and words of love.
He was a good-hearted guy who loved his family and cherished knowledge. He comes from a simpler time, where providing for your family and being present for your kids was appreciated. He didn’t travel the globe or much of the country, but he saw plenty by foot, discovering the depths of Brooklyn and New York City by walking every inch of it. He would take a train or bus to get to where he wanted to be. And he enjoyed the world, one book at a time. Still...
My father is dead.
For some, they may have uttered these words at a very young or old age. Their fathers may or may not have been good people and/or good parents. These men may have died of natural causes, a violent death, an accident, a disease, in combat, by their own hand, or who knows what. Millions of dads leave this planet every month.
Now I’m counted among the many who have lost a parent. It was just a few weeks ago that I officially lost my dad, but I’d begun the mourning period a number of years before. Bouts of deoression, a recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and kidney dialysis took a toll on the man who once was young, healthy and ambitious. It is hard to reconcile the spirit of a person in their prime with their final disposition. It seems we live many lives within a lifetime, but death comes only once and permanently.
It was the unmstured morning hours of an early June day that my view of the world was changed.
My cell phone rang out at 4:30 am and it jarred me awake. It was a warm night and I was only asleep at the surface, already at a stage of tired but not deep into dreamland. I ran downstairs but couldn’t get to it in time. I saw the call came from my sister I knew something was wrong but before I could attempt to let my mind wander as to the nature of her call, the house phone rang.
She told me what I wasn’t ready to hear.
My father had died and my world was instantly divided by his timeline. No longer did I have a dad. No longer did my kids or my sister’s kids have their grandfather. My mom is a widow.
No more discussions about how the Mets are doing or what movie he saw. No more exchanges of day-to-day chit-chat about insignificant things that collectively bonded us. No more sharing of accomplishments and good news. He is gone and it’s a permanent exit.
I really haven’t cried but for a few seconds since I learned of my dad’s death and my new fate. The tears flow inwardly for me. I process things intellectually. I’m sad he’s no longer here to share life with but my hope is that he’s found peace.
I will honor him in death as I’ve done in during his life, by living in a manner that is meaningful and driven by certain principles and passions.
I have heard his voice echo whenever a certain situation or interaction with others would arise. He has always been by my side and now he will be a shadow. It is the natural order of things unfolding here – a father’s passing reminds me of what he’d already given me and it awakens me as to what I want to continue giving my son and daughter.
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