It’s amazing to me that 22 years have gone by since my father died of cancer. On a very sunny morning Memorial Day weekend in 1990, he died of metastatic breast cancer, just three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday.
My dad’s birthday and Father’s Day nearly always fall within days of each other. After he died, before my own marriage and kids, my siblings and I used to ignore the whole Father’s Day thing. It was a holiday that didn’t belong to us anymore (stupid thought I know, but we were young.) We didn’t want to celebrate, since he left us way too early. We all tried to ignore it and would sometimes get together at my mother’s house and have a non-celebration about nothing. Although as hard as we tried to not miss him,we did anyway, and let each other know with silent looks and sighs and the occasional raising of a glass up to heaven. It was just empty. Not having a father to celebrate Father’s Day sucked.
Many years have passed and the emptiness is certainly less than what it once was. We celebrate Father’s Day for my husband and my kids love it. But the emptiness of the absence of my own dad, well it still occasionally creeps up on me. That and the fact that I really did not get to know my father in the 23 years we had together. The time was short, I was young and I suppose I just thought I would know him when I was older. But since the cancer changed that for us, I have my very Swiss Cheese like memory to rely on. And sadly memories of him are fading.
I do have some stories from my siblings and the occasional photograph from a cousin that will pique my interest about my dad and his family. It amazes me the amount of people out there who are related to me but whom I don’t know at all. I think there was some where in excess of 40 first cousins in my dad’s family tree.
There are little snippets of his life that my sisters have told me or that I garnered from pictures. For me, the concept that he was this close to moving our family from Connecticut to California for a career in animation is kind of a hoot. He apparently was going to go into digital animation with his cousin back in the 60s. He could have spawned Dream Works!
He ended up as an engineer and then settled on a career in graphics. I am not sure exactly what he did but there were large cameras and trips to Germany involved. Again, I didn’t ask.
As far as his family, there are pictures of people I know I am related to, but have no idea who they are. Like a group of young adults hanging out on a stoop in Brooklyn, or other groups of people all smiling. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what his life was like there and what kind of life he had after his own father died when he was 13 or so.
I would have liked to know where he came from. Where I came from.
I wish I would have told him to write his life story for me so I could share it with his grand children, two beautiful kids he would never even get to meet. There are pictures, but I have so many questions I would have asked him if I had known then that he wouldn’t be around now.
My son is very interested in history, specifically wartime history, and he is beginning to ask questions about the military careers of his grandfathers. All I know about that is my mother received an American flag at my father’s memorial service in 1990. It’s tucked away in a closet at her house. My father was a member of the United States Navy and I have no idea how long he was there or what it was like for him when he was in Korea. There is a picture of my dad in a naval uniform hanging out on a grey ship. He was smiling, so it must have been a good day.
I am pretty sure he went to college courtesy of the GI Bill. And I know he was smart, like scary smart. (I am crossing my fingers about this for my kids.)
Next year, my son will have a project where he will have to portray a Secret Jewel or something like that — someone in the family who did something notorious, or just maybe did something. I wish I had that kind of project when I was in fifth grade. It would have forced me to find out about things that, at the time, I had no interest in. Perhaps then I would have written down my own father’s life, then every June I could celebrate his birthday and Father’s Day by remembering him for who he really was.
Who he was to me back then, I am not sure. Today he is the guy I remember who called the little charred things on the grill “meat” I am sure they once were. He loved to make chili and chicken wings, he was a great animator, a pretty good artist and could give Bob Hope a run for his money in the joke telling department. He did card tricks and played intellectual games with us and made sure most, if not all, of his kids knew the capitals of all the states. He did the New York Times Sunday Crossword in red ink and rarely, if ever, had a mistake. He was fashion forward (not really) but he brought back a pair of clogs from a trip to Iceland or Germany and wore them proudly. (Crocs anyone?)
He was silly and he embarrassed me when I was young. But back then, at least for me as I probably rolled my eyes about everything, parents were to be seen and not heard.
I’ll remember to tell my own kids not to roll their eyes at me, that someday they will want to know ALL about me.
Anyway, today, June 15, is his birthday. He would have been 84. Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope you are toasting with St. Peter, playing cribbage and having a vodka and grapefruit juice — and some burnt short ribs. And Happy Father’s Day, too.