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In Other Words / Reflections on my birthday, a remembrance of Dad

Published 6:08 am, Thursday, March 20, 2014
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My father taught me more about love than any man I know. He did this by example, and I never got around to telling him, because only recently I got around to understanding it myself.

Dad is long gone. He died too young at age 67 -- quickly and without prolonged agony. He was at his desk, when his final breath was drawn. It seems fitting that he would leave the world in this way. When I picture him, he's always at his desk, leaning over his "lawyerly" papers, tending to some legal matter. He was busy. Involved. Attentive. Happy.

He tended to me, too, not as legal counsel, but as a father to a daughter who needed guidance and perhaps an available ear that was always receptive to whatever "crisis du jour" I was experiencing. He was, on occasion, my best buddy -- a parent with boundless benefits.

My father was fully engaged in whatever it was that brought me to his study. He was acutely sensitive, reading my moods, intuitively knowing when to advise and when it was best to retreat. He listened without distraction.

There was a summer when, at 17, I was recovering from what the French refer to as "un coeur brise" -- a broken heart. My heartthrob, Joey, was about to move away. Romance was in the air when Joey and I professed our undying devotion. I believe the word "eternity" was uttered in between a procession of innocent kisses that went along with our skewed notions of love.

Joey and I parted on a steamy August night when the air was thick with the aroma of honeysuckle, and fireflies flickered over my backyard lawn. We clung to each other with adolescent agony, until my father's sudden appearance at the back door jolted us back to reality. The sound of the screen door slamming shut, and my dad pointing to his watch, sent Joey running for cover as I disappeared into the house.

A month later, Joey wrote from California saying he had met Amanda to whom he was undoubtedly also professing his undying love, abandoning me to the heartbreak of believing I was doomed to face a life of loneliness and despair.

The fallout of this rested with my father, to whom I poured my heart out as I sat in his study, grabbing tissues and bemoaning my fate. He listened, his fingers folded together, as though there was nothing more pressing at that moment than this dramatic breakup and its tragic repercussions.

"I'll never get over it," I wailed through a barrage of tears.

My dad leaned forward, his steely blue eyes fixed on mine. "No," he said, "you won't get over it. But you will get past it."

Such were the pivotal moments my father and I shared. He was there for many of them and, sadly, missed a few. When I gave birth to my daughter, Elizabeth, he was the first one in my room, cracking open a bottle of champagne, heralding the arrival of his new granddaughter. As a grandfather he was exemplary; as a father, an indispensible role model.

For years, he and I dined together every Tuesday evening, never missing one. It was our time to discuss the week's events, and solve any prevailing problems. This tradition lasted until his death. He died on a Tuesday, our night, which seemed appropriately poignant.

March 21 is my birthday. If my dad were here we would be celebrating its arrival in his inimitable style. He was there to honor many similar milestones throughout the many phases of my development, birthdays being just a few. Celebrations needed no justification. Small but significant moments were reason enough. That was part of his enduring charm: his eagerness to be a willing participant in my life.

My father died on a frigid Feb. 15. We never had the chance to say goodbye. I had always expected his closing act would be grand and resonant. That I would be by his side bidding my final adieu, as he uttered profound words of wisdom for me to carry away. I envisioned a huge sendoff. Fanfare. Streamers. But his death was quiet and uncelebrated. He died alone in his study where we had spent endless hours dissecting my life -- an astonishing yet predictable coincidence.

Looking back now, I recall it all, and the impact we had on each other's lives. There were times I disappointed him, made him furious, made him laugh, made him proud. Birthdays were stepping-stones toward an ever-evolving, unpredictable future, and we accumulated many of them together.

After his death, I wondered if I would ever recover. But he was too large in scope, too charismatic, too wise, funny and enormous a presence, for that to ever happen.

Another birthday is here, and my father's image resonates still. The loss is palpable.

"You won't get over it," he had reminded me so long ago, "but you will get past it,"

I've been working on that for years. I'm not quite there.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com