Sunday, June 17, 2012
Two weeks ago I received an email from my father. That wouldn't have been odd a few months back. But since my dad passed on two months ago this mail sent a chill through my spine. Obviously I knew he hadn't sent it. He couldn't. In fact there aren't going to be any more emails from my dad—those one-liners that always made me smile—the constant reminders that he was thinking of me. The arrival of that mail was yet another reminder that dad was no longer with me.
My father was ill; in fact, very ill. And since he'd been diagnosed, just one year earlier, I knew that nothing would ever be the same--that there would be no escape from the inevitable. Nevertheless, although his passing was imminent—it wasn't. We were prepared. Yet we weren't. And with Father's Day around the corner I find myself floundering. How can it be that he's gone when he was always here? I look around my office, in fact right here next to the computer, and he's everywhere. I have a wheel of pictures tracing our lives together from my childhood onward (a treasured souvenir from his office), and a picture of the two of us together at my second-born son's Bar Mitzvah celebration in Philadelphia. He's hugging me tight and smiling. The same pose--every time. When I click into HeyTell on my iPhone there's a partial conversation, a leftover from one of his treatment sessions at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. (He just loved all of those funky Apps. The more the merrier.) A month ago I worked up the courage to call his cell phone. I was desperate to hear his voice: "You've reached Don Goldberg…." The voice mail box has been reset. What a loss--another loss. There are so many that I've lost count.
Back to those messages from dad's iPad: since the first one arrived there have been others. Mom is sending me pictures of the friends and family she's spending time with during this especially raw period. Although it's just short of unbearable to see his name pop up in my inbox I dread the day she'll get around to changing the name on the account. There's some comfort in these small electronic traces of a life so enormous and significant. Now when they appear in my mailbox I smile. Dad's still with us.
I cannot begin to count how much my father gave me: the list includes infinite love, affection, guidance, admiration, advice, respect and friendship—the curly hair, the eyebrows, the dimples. He knew exactly how to make me feel good about myself in any given situation. He showed infinite patience when teaching me how to tie my shoes, read a clock, ride a bike and yes, drive. I know I'm not alone in feeling that he was the best—absolutely the best. My brother had hats with this logo made, way back when, to celebrate his 60th birthday. How deserving. Those lucky enough to have received his attention, affection, warmth, advice and love, were truly blessed.
The painful reality is that while my dad was always, and I mean always, there for me, he no longer is. And I have no concept of how my life will be without him. I know that it will never be the same. The immeasurable comfort of knowing that he was on my side, albeit across the world, a feeling which cushioned my every move, is gone. The carpet has been pulled out from beneath my feet. I know that I can stand on my own—that's a big part of what both of my parents gave me—but it's not something I am entirely eager to do.
Post-mortem emails are only the tip of the iceberg. My father has left traces absolutely everywhere. He's with me when I shuttle my children from one place to another, accompanying me on each and every carpool as he did from the time I was small. He's with me when I work on a crossword puzzle, write an article, or read the newspaper. He's with me when I go to the hardware store, the liquor store and the garden store. He's with me when I wipe down one of my ill children's foreheads, open a good spy novel and watch a border-line violent HBO series or a tennis match. He's there ordering a huge plate of pasta—only spaghetti and only with tomato-based sauce. He's there for dessert: a bowl of chocolate chip mint ice cream, strawberry rhubarb, lemon meringue or key lime pie. He's with me when I cheer on the Eagles or the Phillies. He's there by the Weber pot, in front of a roaring fire, changing the flat tire of my bicycle. He's camped out in the living room or the sun room with a briefcase full of papers at his feet.
My world is inundated with his presence. He's tending his garden on Andorra Road, digging a hole for a post at the beach, watering a plant at 1830. He's sitting in a booth at Madrays, ordering a draft beer in his personal mug at McNally's, enjoying a muffin and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice at the Commissary. He's having breakfast at Park, a drink at Lacroix, dinner at Marathon Grill. He's in his office, peeking out from behind a stack of briefs, framed by hundreds of post-its and lifetime memories. He's in the Square walking the dog and waiting for me to finish my run. He's all over the beach house—his beloved Jersey shore, watching those waves come in. He's standing on the tennis court here in Caesarea, arm raised in a salute as I drive by, with his friends at the club in Loveladies, legs firmly planted, tennis arm extended either far to the right or far to the left. Wherever the shot, he'll get there. He's all over the world; peeking into the mouth of Vesuvius with me, biking along a road in Bordeaux, lying in the next bed attached to matching oxygen tanks in Cuzco. He's all of Philadelphia—from Euclid Avenue to Fairmount Park, from Panama Street to Andorra Road and back to Rittenhouse Square. He's City Hall—he's Willie Penn.
And then there are the arrivals and departures—especially difficult to bear. He's pulling up to my bunk at camp, ready to take me home after a long summer away. He's meeting me at the airport; I spot his tall profile as I run down the terminal ramp with my luggage, anticipating his firm and all-encompassing hug. He's waiting for me to pull up in my car, seated on his bench on the front deck in Loveladies. He's helping me pack my bags, my cartons, the car, but he can never say goodbye. A day or two before any departure he has a hand poised in front of his stomach with fingers raised: 3 or 4 finger agita. He's anxious. I'm leaving. I'm right there with him. I share his dislike for goodbyes. He carefully avoids that final hug, saying goodbye on the phone as mom takes me to the airport, or better yet, speaking with me once I've safely landed. My father could never have anticipated the depth of the agita I've experienced over our final goodbye. And following suit, he never really said goodbye. He didn't need to; it was implicit. And instead our final moments were blessed with abundant love and a tight embrace—precisely mirroring our long life together.
Although I knew this time would come, it's not something I can accept with ease. My father was simply too important, too significant, too wonderful and too irreplaceable. I have, for certain, been the luckiest daughter in the world. I take some comfort from the fact that my dad knew that I felt that way. He lived a beautiful life--straight and true, full of love and compassion—and I am certain that he knew just how much he was treasured. And yes, he knew that I would take his loss hard. Accordingly, for him, specifically for him, I try to take strength from the intensity of his presence which accompanies me throughout the day, and sometimes into the night.
I know the importance of counting one's blessings. And there have been many, foremost among which is having had almost fifty years with the larger than life man who was my father and will always be my father—a man who will forever serve as an example of how good a father can be. I miss you desperately Daddy.