It has been one year since my father died -- a year that has passed in a blink that belies the emotions that have roiled through my soul. One year ago I poured forth my emotions in this forum to attempt to quiet the pain I felt, and I found that I not only helped myself, but others who read my writings. I received handwritten letters of condolence, and one anonymous note from someone who said I helped them work out the pain of their own loss.
A little more than a year ago, when I knew that my father was not getting any better -- when I knew that soon I would have to face his death as surely as I faced each new morning -- I wrote him a letter. I wanted him to know the love I felt for him, as surely as he knew his own name. I had never had any problems telling him that I loved him, and in this I felt quite fortunate. For some men mourn for not only their fathers, but also for lost opportunities -- the times when they could have opened up and expressed their feelings, but for some strange reason, their ingrained machismo prevented them for doing so. I have seen men cry out and weep that they were unable to say to their fathers something as simple as "I love you" -- but with my father, I did not have such a problem. And he could say "I love you" to me, too.
Yet, as I was flying out to California, sitting in my reverie and quiet mourning for what was not yet, but what would surely be, I started quite suddenly to remember things from my childhood -- a childhood that I had thought long past, yet which was close to the surface of my inner thoughts. And as I remembered, I started to write. I share this letter with you, this deeply personal remembrance, in the hopes that these feelings, too, can help someone overcome a loss such as mine -- or better, to help someone open up and share feelings with a parent or grandparent while there can still be words between you.
I haven't opened the envelope that contained this letter in a year, because I was afraid of the pain that I knew it would cause. I found the lock of his hair that I put in there, that little piece of him that I saved, the physical reminder of his presence now passed -- and that hurt, too. Yet if what I do now -- this sharing of self -- can help even one other person, then that pain was worth enduring. I loved my father so much, and I miss him almost more than I can bear. I cannot bring him back, yet through my writings, and in my memory, he still lives...
I was sitting on the flight to San Diego, thinking of you as I often do lately, when I started remembering things from my childhood -- things I have not thought of in years, and things which I remember very fondly -- so that they brought tears to my eyes. I thought I'd write them down, so that I could share them with you, and make you smile, and let you know how much I love you, and how much I want to hug you and kiss you and tell you how much I care.
I remember standing outside on a summer night in the Bronx -- no more that 7 years old -- hunting the skies with you, and finding -- triumphantly -- the silver speck of light that was Echo 1, wandering its silent way across the heavens.
I remember a night in Bantam Lake, looking heavenward again, as the Perseid meteors showered down. The time you strung up the letters "H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y" in the Westervelt kitchen, and then made a treasure hunt out of finding the letters after school -- The "T" hidden behind the refrigerator, and how proud you were of me.
The NYC science fair, and how you worked to help me win it, and how I won it for you -- for you, Daddy.
Getting into a fight on our porch, and having you pull the bully off of me -- my humiliation and rage at being denied the fight, and realizing only years later that it was only out of love that you scolded me.
Finding the cement trough filled with mosquito larvae, and bringing them home to raise with the frogs.
The gerbils, and the rabbits and rats and mice and bugs and birds and shells and frogs and salamanders, and those silly wasps and drosophila -- thank you for exposing me to all of that. And the lab at Einstein, and letting me run free (playing with the Mercury -- that was always fun). The spectrophotometer you brought home for me to tear apart, and all the other things you trusted me with, and let me play with, and learn and grow self confident with. I can tear apart a $100,000 computer and not feel afraid -- and I can fix anything, because you taught me how to take things apart, learn how they worked, and remember how to put them back together again.
I remember you popping off a strobe light in our bedroom after I had dark adapted -- and how I thought the world had exploded and my eyes would fall out. And I remember how gentle you could be, and how tender and concerned you were when I had pneumonia, or tonsillitis, or my stupid allergies -- getting the gunk out of my eyes.
I remember waiting for hours outside of Bronx House, because you lost track of time and forgot to come get me, and how I was afraid you would be mad when I broke my arm -- and how you weren't, and how you bullied the doctors into helping me.
I remember sitting on your lap, reading "Green Eggs and Ham". I can still feel your strong chest behind me, and your arms around me, pointing to every other word to prove to Opa that I really was reading -- and then I remember reading it backwards.
I remember you showing Dan Friedman that I wasn't embarrassable (and that Mommy was) by telling me to spell "penis". And I spelled it wrong.
I regret not playing with you more, but I also remember that you taught me how to throw a frisbee and to be a little less of a klutz. You also taught me to analyze things, so that I could learn on my own.
I remember you commuting to work when we were at Bantam Lake -- and I also remember being so happy whenever you came. I remember soiling my bathing suit once because I messed up my timing -- and how you whisked me off to the outside bathroom, and didn't scold me, just told me that accidents happen, and it was ok, just be more careful. And I was so embarrassed, and you made it all right.
I remember what a good father you were, and how hard you tried, and what a good son you were, and how sweet and patient and loving you were with grandpa -- and how it made me cry to see how much love and affection you were lavishing on him -- and how he knew, and loved you back.
I remember how hard you worked with Stephanie and her eye exercises, and her lisp -- "Say `Sassafras'" (and she'd say `Thathafrath'), And I remember our knock down, drag out, screaming fights in the kitchen at Coligni, and how we both grew up from them and became better people.
I remember learning genetics from you over Christmas vacation, and testing you with the histology slides in the projector at fast forward. And I remember "steatocytes" and "columnar epithelial cells", even after 12 years. I remember going to the hospital with you when Mommy was pregnant with Stephanie -- and how you bought me a balloon from the vendor outside.
I remember you taking me shopping before I went off to college, and buying me a denim jacket and some pants. The jacket is too small today, and is all worn out at the shoulders and elbows, but I still have it, and I didn't throw it out.
I remember that you once told me that your two biggest fears for me were my having to shave, and my getting drafted, I remember how upset you were when I turned 18 and registered -- but I got around the shaving part, didn't I?
I remember Israel and Egypt, and how you took care of me when I got heat exhaustion. And Guatemala and the Dominican Republic -- playing in the casinos or poking around in the rocks and ruins, plants and bugs and beasties, and having a great time with you.
I remember every single one of your war stories. I remember that you shot out a bank window with a slingshot when you were a kid, or set fire to your mattress with your chemistry set.
I remember getting a bath in the kitchen sink at Griswold Ave. And I remember you patching up my knee when I had an accident on my old bicycle. I remember going to the bike store and buying my old Schwinn truck bike, and then again to buy my Raleigh 10-speed.
I remember riding home from school in your black Oldsmobile, riding down the roller coaster hills that made us float in the car. I also remember sitting in your lap in the old white Pontiac (with the indian hood ornament with the swept back hair) pretending to drive, and trying to hold the wheel with the no-power steering rocking over the pot holes.
Flying kites, and building them -- hanging on to that deep sea fishing line and rod. Hunting for praying mantis nests in the swamp. The apple picking tool you designed to get up in the crab apple tree at Bantam Lake. The set of blocks you made for me out of scraps of old wood. The Lionel trains, and how thrilled I was when you brought home an "X" crossing (so we could build a figure-8). Winnie-the-Pooh. Lincoln Logs. Helping you rotate the tires. I remember these, and a thousand other things.
Whenever I sing along with a piece of classical music -- improvising a harmony -- I hear you singing, too. When I teach one of the neighborhood kids about something of nature or mechanics, I remember you teaching me, and I feel you standing over my shoulder. When I putter in the garden, or when I trim my hedges, I see you in me. When I pick up a small animal, or help a little child, I see you.
You have been, are, and always will be such a large part of me. I carry you with me wherever I go, in my heart and in my head. I am so glad to see you, and it makes me so happy to make you happy. You can be such an irascible pain in the ass sometimes, but I love you so much just the same.
I miss you when I am away, and I will miss you terribly when you are gone -- a hundred times more than I miss grandpa. And I want you to live for another 50 years, so you'll always be around, always there to visit, always on the other end of the phone saying "that phone sounds like it's Danny calling."
I want you to get better, to be healthy and happy. I want -- and I know it is partially because I am being selfish -- for you to be all better again, to be able to go out and traipse around with me. And most of all, most importantly -- even if no other of my wishes come true -- I want you to know how much I love you -- now and forever. I love you, Daddy!
Your son, your pride and joy, -- Danny
I lit a Yartzeit candle this morning -- it's been a year since he died. A year has passed since I spoke with him, yet not a week has gone by that I didn't reach for the phone to call him. A year has passed since I held him in my arms or gave him a kiss. A year has gone since I heard his voice swell with pride and call me "my son". A year of my life.
A year has gone, and yet I would gladly trade that year of my life for one day, one hour, one minute with him again. And still it seems like only yesterday that I saw him last.
My father is gone, but still he lives in my heart, and in my thoughts and my words. He knew that I loved him, and I knew that he loved me -- because we could share that love, and not keep it a secret from each other. If there is only one thing we each learned from the other, it was how to show what we felt. And I hope that if there is one thing that I can share with you by opening this letter, it is that you, too, can profit from this knowledge. That you, too, can share your love with someone close, and not curse yourself in later years for opportunities missed. If I can help just one person, then the pain of remembrance was worth enduring.
And my father would have been proud to help.