My mother reads every word I write here, so I better get the punctuation right. She called this morning and reminded it was my Dad's birthday. He would have been 92 today. He has been gone since 1998. In terms of his growing any older, time stopped with his last breath. The place I miss him the most is with my boys - and not being able to share them with him. It forces me to double team - being both their father and their grandfather. Being the Dad everyday dealing with all the small stuff - and being the grandfather talking about the things that get lost in the daily shuffle.
My father was into being loved. His life was a lesson in finding love in the most unlikely of places. He went with his brother, a card table, and my mother’s college Smith Corona typewriter to build a home remodeling company in a steel valley outside of Pittsburgh. He knew no one there. He was one of the first Jews any of them had ever met. In the end - he developed friendships that were deep and meaningful and powerful. He fed a whole team of families who worked for him. He could ride through the valley and point out houses, “We done that job….we done that job…” His gift was not business - it was relationships. I get that.
My father was not political - but he did vote democratic and loved this country. My father loved Sinatra and Fitzgerald and Armstrong and Bobby Short. He liked the idea of Vegas - but then couldn’t wait to leave there once we finally arrived. He drove past the Pittsburgh airport everyday going to work and always dreamed of just parking and getting on a plane, although he would never have done that alone. He once claimed he met aliens and had us all convinced. The joke at dinner every night - he would often get home after we had finished - was what we were having was exactly what he had for lunch at work. But it was a joke. Getting a sip of his Pepsi was no joke. On Saturdays he would work a half day and come home with fresh corned beef and a loaf of crusty rye bread. On Sunday’s we went to every home Steeler game together for over a dozen years. I remember little of what happened on the field. I remember everything about sitting next to my father freezing while he drank coffee and smoked cigarettes.
In the last year of his life I flew home one morning when he was in the hospital. When I arrived in his room he sat up and said, “I am not leaving this life until I know that you are happy.” In that instant my life took a radical turn towards happiness. He flipped a switch I never knew how to flip.
My father never met Stephie which seems like such a strange unfolding of circumstance - except for my knowing everyday how much of him she embodies. He would have instantly loved Stephie - in the same way her parents embraced me. Our boys - without even having met their grandfather carry so much of his spirit in everything they do. He is in their DNA. He is in their soul. He is in the way they laugh and treat others.
So when I miss my father, I also know he is alive. In me. In my boys. In Stephie. For sure in my brother and mother. Still it would be more fun sharing all of this with him. And he was really into fun.
I remember sitting on the front steps when I was young looking down the street waiting for my father to come around the bend in one of his fancy leased cars. He had this deal to get a new car every six months - a front wheel drive Toronado, a big Lincoln with the adjacent door handles. I would sit there forever waiting for his car to come around the bend and pull into our driveway. It is probably the most patience I remember ever having been as a child. And then....magically he would pull off Fair Oaks onto Inverness and with a big right hand turn into our driveway. I would run over and give my father the biggest hug. After two hours of driving and a day at work that began before dawn, my father would be totally there. In each other's arms. That was the best feeling in the world. Sometimes when I visit Pittsburgh I sit on those same steps and look down that same street imagining his car turning the corner. Now...with another kind of patience.