In Other Words: Hey, Dad!...a daughter reflects

Father’s Day may have come and gone, but the memories linger on. Just like that, my father is also gone, leaving us much too early. Like a bright bolt of lightning that strikes with such intensity, he lit up my life, and then, too soon, at age 67, he decided to call it quits.

“What a nerve,” I’d tell him if I could.

Death is inevitable. We all know that even if we’d like to forget it. We expect it to happen, but not on our watch. Just somewhere off in some distant future when we’re not looking. And so, when my dad left this world, my own world was suddenly minus the person I had counted on to hang around. I expected his presence to be ongoing and permanent, but he fooled me by doing it his way.

I was in my 30s when he died. He left my mother a widow, my daughter without her grandpa, and me without my father. There had been the unexpected phone call from a relative announcing that my father had expired. “Expired” is a weird word. Like a piece of fruit or a bottle of pills, dad’s shelf life was over.

The days following felt somber, as we, the key characters in his life, mourned in our own ways. Up until now I had only experienced my life with him in it, so when he was no longer around, I felt abandoned by a force greater than even he could control. As it was many years later when my husband died, creepily in his mid-60s too, I felt the same gnawing sense of loss and abandonment, which felt daunting and abnormal.

My dad was was heavily involved in other people’s lives, both personally and professionally. As a lawyer, he took his work seriously. As a parent the same enthusiasm applied. He had a bunch of pals to whom he referred as “the boys” and I can still smell the smoke that filled our dining room on nights when he and his cronies gathered at our house for card games. He went from cigarettes, to cigars, finally landing on a pipe, and whose tweed jackets held the remnants of tobacco for months to come.

My mother has also been gone for years, but she was never quite the same after dad died. My daughter recalls snippets of her grandpa that enriched her childhood, and my frames of reference hold stories so vivid it’s as though they happened yesterday. The gifts of special relationships are that the memories are so replete they themselves are like little lives.

And, not all of them golden. One such moment was when I got dad so mad, he turned the garden hose on me while he was watering the lawn. Another time he chased me around our dining room table, but I was too fast on my feet, and so I avoided the consequences of his wrath. I imagined nothing too ominous would have ensued, but I was fortunate never to find out.

Fact is, for better and for worse, I perceived my father as my hero, whose flaws were viewed as minimal, and whose attributes were varied and many, as I chose them to be.

It is hard to adequately explain now, decades later, the joy of those hours spent with my father. In retrospect, they remain perfect little remnants of my past — bejeweled moments that twinkle brightly and remain bittersweet and intact.

My father died on a frigid February day. 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 professed 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, his “man cave” before it was coined that, and where I went to purge my adolescent angst.

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. Each year was a stepping-stone 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, wise, funny and enormous a presence for that to ever happen.

Even now, so many decades later, he remains my hero because I deemed it so. And so, my hero lives on. Even in absentia his presence is profoundly alive, igniting my imagination, and soothing my own aging soul.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.