Gone from this world since 1997, my father now guides me from heaven before or after his early bird dinners and bridge games; his voice, wit, and wisdom remain strong.
When alive, he showed up big time in my life and my writing. Parents Magazinepublished my essay on his bond with my daughter. Also in Parents, in a June issue was a Father’s Day piece in which I shared his lessons. Family, finding work I love, enjoying my own company, authenticity, not keeping up with the Joneses, the joy of giving, and a sense of humor reign supreme.
Whenever I wrote about something or someone other than him, he’d say, “Not bad considering it’s not about me.”
My temperament and many of my choices, passions, and values were and are about him. And about my mother. Isn’t that The Truth for us all?
Two occurrences last week were all about my father:
I reread a letter he wrote me in college when I thought I’d flunk Chemistry. He titled it A DON’T PANIC LETTER:
You sounded hysterical on the phone last night. That upset me. Not only because you wasted ten minutes of my long-distance time crying, but mainly because I’ve never known you to get worked up over something as idiotic as an exam. Just because some finky professor didn’t ask questions on the material you studied doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Hopefully, the person who teaches you Chemistry next semester will ask better questions.
No two people come out the same from college. Some get A’s. Some get B’s. Some get mono. Some get knocked up. Some get Phi Beta Kappa keys and some get thrown out.
I have always been proud of you—until yesterday, when you disappointed me on the phone. Frankly, I never expected a child of mine to be a science whiz, but I did expect her to maintain her sense of humor and keep her cool as she has always done in the past.
Don’t sweat Chemistry or your other finals. We love you no matter how they come out.
Aunt Yetta (R) Dad (L) When they were little girls
2. The Miracle Worker was on television. Watching it for the zillionth time, I thought about seeing it on Broadway in December 1959.
Beginning with The Diary of Anne Frank, The Most Happy Fella, and No Time For Sergeants in 1956, my family drove to NYC once a year to see a drama, musical, and comedy. After my sister went to college in 1959, my parents came without me and saw The Miracle Worker.
Dad, raving about it when they got home, did not want me to miss it. “I’ll take you,” he said, already dialing his scalper friend’s phone number.
Three Saturdays later, dressed in good clothes, after a morning flight to New York and lunch at Lindy’s, we sat in our box seats at Playhouse Theatre. The houselights dimmed. I was immediately transported with Patty Duke’s appearance. The magic she wove with Anne Bancroft blew me away. My father, glancing at me often, in tears too, was pleased I was transfixed. After a second trip to Lindy’s—this time for cheesecake–we took a cab to LaGuardia and flew home. My father gave me the message, as he always had, that going places and sharing experiences with me was fun and that he genuinely enjoyed my company.
The day and the play stayed with me. In 1977, I had four children’s books published, one on Helen Keller.
My father knew me. Knew what I liked. Knew I’d love a poignant play. Frugal about material things, he was generous with the time and money he spent on me, opening me up from an early age to what had truth and soul, enriching me with what was important.
I carry his riches with me, trying, as he advised in his Don’t-Panic-Letter, not to sweat it. I feel our connection and his love no matter how it comes out.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad and to all of our fathers!
A CONTEST FOR YOU
In 50 words or less, in the comment section here, write about something you got or learned from your father, grandfather, or a father figure. Or, if you’re a guy, something you discovered/learned becoming a father. There will be two impartial judges. I will announce the winner here June 30. The winner will receive a prize. Again, no more than 50 words.