My dad passed away four years ago today, May 23, 2010.
What I remember from that day, and the ones before and after, is being so very weary of my dad’s illness—his health had been spiraling in fits and starts for years, but it picked up a relentless, slipping velocity in the end. It’s a cliche to say I thought we would have more time, that there would be some blessed clarity and awareness and time to play games and talk about what was, and what might have been. To discuss regrets and triumphs. And that’s not how real life is. The death certificate lists “systemic organ failure” as my dad’s cause of death. One doesn’t muse over lives lived, or play a Strat-O-Matic tournament (or even better, Stratego, or The Russian Campaign) amid “systemic organic failure.” My dad fought for every breath until he didn’t. It exhausted him, and all of us. And while it seemed at the time to have gone on endlessly, I think now how it could have stretched out far longer, but didn’t. And the emotion that rises when I think about that is relief. In the face of his suffering, it was a grace.
The last substantial wish of my dad’s life was to escape the hospital and spend his final days in his home. That ended up lastng about 40 hours, but he got his wish. I will always remember his first night back home, a Friday, propped up in a hospital bed in the family room, a Dewar’s on the rocks, splash of water, on a tray in front of him and a Marlboro Light in his hand (it was a little late for chidings about his health), my mom sitting next to him on the skirt of the bed, and he smiling a bemused smile—an “I can’t believe I’m in my home” smile. The man was content. Sick as hell, deathly sick, but content. It never got better after that.
Four years after his death, the rifts and disagreements have retreated to the back rows of the auditorium. What sits up front are the things I think he’d enjoy. A good Mets game or the Sunday round of the Masters on TV, sitting in the rightmost side of the couch. Holding court on the back patio of his house, asking someone to take his glass inside and add some ice—and a little scotch. His kids making their way in the world. His grandchildren. I think he would be bursting over his grandkids. He saw only Hannah graduate high school, and he didn’t really get to see the bunch of them take on the outlines of their adult selves. He’d be worried—how are they going to support themselves? What are they going to do? he’d be asking—but he’d like them a whole hell of a lot. When I think about my dad and my sons, I feel a deep ache, and I feel him close to me.
And I like that. I need it. We certainly had things we disagreed over and, as with anybody who knows you really well, he could push my buttons. But I also know that I am his—father to son—in a way I’m no one else’s, that there are instincts and thoughts and habits that flow straight from the ol’ man, as surely as my boys have parts of me in them that, for better or worse, are ingrained in them till their last days.
Which brings me to The Greek. That was my dad’s nickname for me. Nobody’s called me that in 4 years. But rest assured, The Greek abides. And today, The Greek hurts a bit. Love you, dad.