Some years ago after meeting my father, a friend asked me, “Do you have any issues with him?” I replied that although we’d had some friction in the past, that was long behind us, and we got along well, why? “Because you’re exactly alike,” she replied.
My favorite story about my father goes back more than 20 years, when I was returning to university after a holiday. Dad dropped me off at the airport at the absolute last moment and as he parked the car, Mom and I discovered that it was quite possible the flight would get me there, but not my luggage. When we went to the gate, as you could do in those days, I heard that they were asking for passengers to be bumped. Knowing this would mean they would arrange another flight gratis as well as some credit to be applied to a future trip, I quickly volunteered. When Dad appeared and heard there’d been a change, his immediate reaction was anger, but he soon switched his tune when he realized the good deal I’d struck. It did entail a wait of about 90 additional minutes. About 20 minutes into our vigil, Dad, who’d begun pacing, came over to us and announced, “I’m going to move the car,” which he wound up doing a couple more times to stay under the 30 minute limit for free parking.
His quick temper, his just-as-quick mood changes and his frugality are all parts of Dad I can identify with closely. In losing my father, I have lost the person closest to me in temperament in the whole world.
It is no surprise that Dad was drawn to the social sciences because he was a devoted observer of people. Night after night at the family dinner table, he would regale of with stories of office politics. When I was a boy-crazy teenager, it was Dad who had the patience to listen to the ongoing saga of everything my latest crush did or said.
He was always a very present father, probably more so than many other men of his generation. I think because his own childhood had been cut short by his parents’ divorce, he especially enjoyed sharing in my activities. He was the one who would watch Saturday morning cartoons with me, and he was the one who’d take me trick-or-treating (hiding in the bushes). I feel especially lucky for the family vacations we had when I was growing up. Most years we’d take a road trip and also rent a cabin in Pennsylvania’s Tuscarora Mountains to get out of Baltimore during the worst dog days of summer. It was the one time of the year junk food was allowed and Dad and I especially savored it, from the donuts we’d pick up on the way to the cabin to the marshmallows we’d toast after a barbecue dinner. My parents read out loud to me, all of the Land of Oz books when I was little, and when I was old enough to appreciate them, Dad read us stories by Jean Shepherd, a fellow Midwesterner. We also played lots of games; Dad’s particular favorite was the card game, pinochle. I can’t remember ever beating him at Monopoly, where he’d shamelessly manipulate my irrational love of the orange block to engineer trades in his favor. (He always played as the battleship.)
Although I think he did harbor a tiny regret that I didn’t grow up to become the Che Guevara of the United States, Dad’s interests have influenced many of my choices. Like him, I studied a social science, anthropology. Dad was very interested in wellness and my parents subscribed to Prevention magazine for many years so perhaps it was no surprise that I took advantage of the opportunity to study and practice homeopathy, abandoning that for a brief teaching career of my own. These days I am a card and board game designer and I think I had pinochle and Hearts very much in mind when I designed Raid the Pantry, a card game where your fate isn’t sealed by the cards you are initially dealt.
I'm really glad Dad got to see and play the finished game.
I’m also glad he got to see me happily re-partnered when he visited Auckland for Christmas of 2011 and that he got to meet Chris’ daughters, Alex and Ashleigh.
Dad deeply loved the United States and felt it was his duty to do whatever he could to change things for the better and to be a role model for younger people. The best way we can honor his memory is by helping others and fighting for a fairer society and world.
As I was starting to think about what I would say today, a Barbara Streisand song came to me. She is actually my mother’s favorite singer, but Dad liked her too, and the other thing I remember about our family dinners is the music he would play. Later we’ll hear a piece from his favorite singer, Neil Diamond, but for now I’ll leave you with a Streisand song.