Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Letter to My Father

“Dear Dad,

It is five years to the day since you left us. August 15, 2007. I was teaching in Toronto when I got the call in the early morning. I managed to teach throughout the day, but near the end, was singing this heart-wrenching Swedish song about how it’s impossible to say goodbye to a loved one without crying. We practiced it once and I opened a book to read a poem and a photo of you and me fell to the floor. I, of course, broke down and confessed to the group what had happened and we all fell on each other’s shoulders in heaving sobs and ridiculously, tried to sing the song. As I think I wrote recently, you just can’t cry and sing at the same time. It was both moving and intensely comic. Had an educational supervisor walked in, I’m sure my teaching would have been marked down for letting emotion interfere with the lesson’s main concept of minor scale going to major. But of course the true lesson was that a son must grieve for a father and why not surrounded by compassionate people who have known or will know that same kind of sorrow?

Anyway, I decided to shut the world out today so you and I could have some time. Well, kind of. I did spend six hours catching up on business and e-mails, but I also talked to you in-between, listened to Beethoven’s 3rd, wore your purple shirt, snacked on almonds and raisins, tried to recite your favorite poem (a little rusty), won two games of Solitaire and brought out the Crostic book (though haven’t gotten to that yet). In short, do some of the things you loved to do on your behalf.

And then I went to visit your darling wife, who was still in bed at 4:00 pm. She seems to be going through a rough patch, low energy, looking a little grim and not communicating much. But what can you expect for 91 years old? While they got her out of bed, I played Tenderly on the piano, the song that you used to play on the Baldwin organ while I was upstairs going to sleep. That and Cocktails for Two are the two songs I associate with you, though in your later life, you didn’t seem to hold any special affection for them. No matter. Their notes carry to me the image of you at the organ in our cozy New Jersey home, a moment that seems at once just yesterday and several lifetimes ago.

But I know that what you would want most is for me to play your own compositions and so I did when Mom came out, starting with Forma. I hoped to share a tender moment with her, but she was in her mime class mode, pointing to whatever she wanted at the end of each measure and glaring at me like I better attend to her— water, food, get her to the bathroom, etc. I finally gave up and just took her to dinner and then went back and played a bit more. I showed the music to my friend Fran walking to dinner and she was not only impressed that you composed, but she loved seeing your calligraphy. It was good to hear those old familiar notes again and see your old familiar signature. I had a moment imagining you at the piano composing and re-working and writing it down, taking time from business as usual to feed some creative impulse. I suppose my love affair with the creative process came partly from your example. Thank you.

That’s the news, such as it is. I hope you’d be pleased to know that I’m about as happy as I’ve ever been, with so much that I love to do and the welcome opportunities to do them  and more and more, with other people that inspire and move me. Of course, I miss you terribly and still often have the urge to call you before and after a trip to check in, to hear your voice say the word “son” and sign-off with your corny “shake it easy!”

Five years. Time marches on and in some cosmologies, marching me forward to the day when perhaps we may meet again. Who knows? Meanwhile, I’m just trying to do my part down here to keep your memory alive. Thanks for listening.

Your still loving son,


PS Your purple shirt looks great with the sweater Talia just got me!”

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