Even though he died 24 years ago, hardly a day has gone by that my father hasn’t crossed my mind.
His was a premature death, two weeks shy of his 60th birthday, caused by a massive heart attack brought about by a blood clot passing through his aorta.
Our family doctor told me death would have been almost instantaneous.
Others said they would like to depart the same way, quickly and without pain. Their comments were meant to console me, but it was cold comfort knowing my father died alone at his work, on the floor of the locker room where he lay until one of his colleagues went looking for him.
I know even if I had been there I could not have done anything, but I would have liked to have held and hugged him, felt the warmth of his body and smelled that fatherly scent the way I had last done as a child. Instead, at the moment of his death, I was in some dingy bar in Singapore, drunk as a skunk, celebrating the end of a boring week-long assignment on the Island.
That wasn’t exactly a new state of affairs for me and it wasn’t a situation my father would have disapproved of, but not having been able to say goodbye to him disturbed me. It took many years until I really came to grips with the situation.
By then I was married for the second time, with an 8-year-old son who never got to meet his grandfather. A therapist suggested I write a letter to my father and tell him exactly what I felt about his death, but I avoided this for a long time, hiding some unknown fear and apprehension behind a string of pathetic jokes. How much postage did it require to get a letter to the other side? Would the letter be used to finally prove I was certifiably mad?
When I finally sat down to write, it at first proved to be the most difficult thing I had ever done. But then page after page after page began to flow. I wrote like a man possessed and as I did so I cried, I laughed, I was angry, I was happy; and when it was finally finished, I was exhausted and relieved.
I recalled things we had done together that I had long forgotten. I laughed at some of his jokes and his clumsiness with the English language – how he called our back yard the backside and how people would look at him when he said he had to go home to mow his backside. I felt pride remembering how he always stood up for what he believed, how once at a packed strike meeting he told his union organizer, who claimed to believe in the principles of Socialism, to go home and study a little world history before he next came to ask an audience containing many workers who had fled Eastern Europe to remember those principles.
I felt sorry that World War II had robbed him of his youth and wondered at how he had managed to steer three sons through their teenage years when at their age he had been fighting for survival and learning how to kill.
I was furious at him for dying and leaving behind a woman who had throughout most of her life loved only him.
I was incensed he would not be there for my children to enjoy, that he wouldn’t play all those make-believe games with them like he had with my brothers and me.
But most of all I was filled with a huge sense of relief because I had finally been able to admit we had allowed ourselves to be overtaken by that cold, macho, male fear of expressing our feelings. We had lost the intimacy we had shared when I was a child. We had stopped saying “I love you” to each other, and from the time I left home when I was 17, I had never told him how important he was to me and how thankful I was for all the times his advice, even by letter and phone, had rescued me from all kinds of trouble all over the place.
Now when I think of my father it is with easiness, because I believe he somehow read that letter and that we both now know where we stand.
But even so, I miss him and wish he was around, not only for my sake, but for the sake of my two children. I would love to see him sitting with them and sharing his wisdom with them like he did with my brothers and me, the way that unfortunately many of us fathers forget to do today in our day-to-day modern lives.
I would give anything to have my father sit down with us for Father’s Day breakfast and to be able to tell him, “Happy Fathers Day, I love you.”