41 — in Memorium

My father died 41 years ago in October.  He was good and died young.

He was 57. I was 12.

When a child loses a parent at such a young age, she must make choices. There are so many milestones, so much history that would’ve been written together but instead must be filled in with best guesses, assumptions – thoughts and theories where shared experiences with my father should be.  It is unfair. Life is unfair. But you already knew that.

“How was your day?” he asked, scotch splashing over the ice in his glass.

“My day was good, Daddy.”
“What’d you do?”
“Stuff. Some Japanese people visited school. They took my picture.”
“I bet your pretty face will kill in Hiroshima,” my suit-clad father replied through snorts of laughter, “Or you might bomb in Nagasaki.”
“Oh, Abe…” my mother admonished, as she too smiled.

Years later, I figured out this was a reference to WWII. My father wasn’t a racist but a devotee of the comedic craft that is word play.  I choose to believe that my propensity toward the same high art is hereditary. My children beg – quite literally – to differ as they roll their eyes at my punditry.

WWII was my father’s war. He served as an officer in India.  I’ve tried to research this part of his life.  Much to my frustration, his were among the millions of records lost to a  1973 St. Louis fire.

All I have are scraps from family members, snippets of memory and a couple of photographs from which to cobble together my father before fatherhood. I stare at a man in khaki, whom I resemble. I see him as the dashing, young officer with a rugged style I don’t recall. This must suffice. I wish I could hear his stories about the sub-continent.

I choose to believe that my father would’ve been proud of me. Proud of what I have learned from the dumbass mistakes I’ve made, and of the children I’m trying to raise to be curious, principled, kind people who seek to improve our planet.

I imagine him shopping for his granddaughter’s homecoming dress. A particular man with a keen eye for detail, the image of him sifting through dresses with my fourteen-year-old makes me smile.  The notion of him accepting the existence of cleavage, let alone his granddaughter’s desire to flaunt it, makes me laugh, with the snort I most definitely inherited from him. In my youth, my mother tried to train me to laugh in a more ladylike manner. Naturally, this made me laugh and snort louder.

“Dad, you would love her fierce nature… and the hard time she gives me.”

And there he is, in my mind’s eye, standing ramrod straight in a three -piece suit even on a Sunday in Bloomingdale’s.  “You’re not going to let her wear that green dress in public, are you?”

My father’s standards remain high. Even in my imagination.

I choose to believe that I act as honorably as he would have demanded. I do the right thing not because it is easy or because I necessarily want to, but because it is the right thing. I hope that my father is proud of this. I know I sleep better because of it.

“My word is my bond,” my father said of his business dealings.

When he was working in New Jersey, he and his brother, who were partners at the time, started a cement company in an attempt at what we’d now call vertical integration. Shortly thereafter, my father and uncle were approached by ‘gentlemen’ who ‘suggested’ that the business ‘employ’ certain ‘consultants’ according to very specific terms that the pair of ‘gentlemen’ laid out for them.  The cement business was shuttered before it began.

I choose to tell his stories – even at the risk of tears. I choose to believe that the act of remembering, of writing down these words, gives my father a touch of immortality, and that I  breathe life into the pictures and tokens left behind.

I am blessed to call you Dad. I just wish I could embrace more than your memory when I do.

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