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A Fatherless Father's Day

Max as reluctant to let Dad go as we were.

I remember the accident as if it was yesterday.

I had been living in Washington, D.C. for three years. That particular morning, a Saturday, I was running late for work. It was a gray, wet morning at the edge of Winter. Heavy rain, like molten white gold, fell from an aluminum sky as I blazed along at 80 mph. A gray car merged onto the roadway from the right, then proceeded to move into my lane without signaling. The car was moving so slowly it looked like it was moving backwards. I pressed the brakes hard, pumping steadily with increasing pressure, my right hand tight on the gearshift ready to down shift. Realizing collision was inevitable, I glanced at the speedometer: 60. The impact sent my little car spinning towards the concrete divider separating west-bound traffic from east. The world seemed upside down. I remember thinking, I’m going to die and I never got to be friends with my father. I glanced up at the sky, oddly unafraid, and I swear I saw the hand of God reach down and stop my car from spinning.

Fast forward a few months: Father’s Day, 1988. I moved back to Philadelphia, in large part to be closer to my parents who lived in the Bronx. What I had thought would be my last thought haunted me. By being physically closer, I hoped to befriend my father. I don’t know if the thought of losing me, shook my father as much as I had been shaken, but I know after I got back to Philly,  I started walking his way and he started walking mine. Sometimes we walked in rain, sometimes we walked with the sun on our backs. We gained a lot of ground because we both gave a little and learned along the way that no road is too long when you meet in the middle. When he died 29 years later, I lost not just my father, but my friend.

My older brother told me a story about Dad kissing him after commencement when he graduated from Syracuse University. Dad had, of course kissed us before, when we were younger, but for some reason that kiss stood out in his memory because it recalled dad’s pride and happiness, two things he didn’t demonstrate often.

I don’t recall Daddy ever saying he was proud of me—of any of us. He wouldn’t have done that any more than he would have said he was ashamed of us. But his pride was unmistakable. One day at the hospital, he introduced me to one of his nurses. “This is my son. He lives in Philadelphia,” he said, “He’s a writer.”

When my brother and I were cleaning out Daddy’s things, we found an old wallet filled with our class pictures from first grade to seventh grade; year after year, he’d add the new picture in from of the old one. Going through his wallet was like watching my brothers and I grow up in time-lapse photography. His father’s pride in his children was almost palpable. In an envelope, I found a series of Father’s Day cards I had sent him over years; each one was signed by me and Stanley, who daddy unflinchingly embraced as his son-in-law from the very beginning. That he kept those cards told me he was proud that I’d met a man he approved of and built the kind of life he wanted for me and each of my brothers.

Dad, his son & grandson
My brother told me he remembers Dad’s graduation kiss every time he kisses his own son, Max. Max, my parents’ only grandchild.

Daddy always wanted grandchildren. When my older brother and his wife announced they were expecting a baby, daddy’s joy was unmistakable. He’d waited so long and yet he never once, as far as I knew, voiced his desire for a grandchild to my brothers. He’d only mentioned it to me once, many years ago. 

Daddy started noticeably declining about a year before he died. After an accident, he was no longer allowed to drive. So, he used Uber to get to doctor’s appointments, my younger brother drove him to the bank and the barber shop. Dad would occasionally walk around their neighborhood on errands. The last time Dad went out by himself, was a December day. Returning home, he fell in the street and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. We were puzzled about where he’d been coming from. My brother discovered the answer a few days later when a Christmas card from our father, addressed to Max, arrived. In it was $300 in cash; the card was signed “Love, Grampy.”

Earlier this year, my brother, Max’s father told me he and his wife were expecting a second child. My first thought was oh man Daddy would have loved that. I did a quick calculation in my head and realized this new baby had been conceived while Daddy was dying; as one life was winding down, another was beginning.

We buried Daddy on November 15, 2017. As we drove away from the cemetery, I thought I am a fatherless man. Now, six plus months later, as Father’s Day approaches—our first without our Dad—I know I will never be fatherless, for daddy will always be with me, in the lessons he taught me, in the love he gave me so unconditionally, in my brother’s gentle kiss on his son’s cheek. Because of his influence, we, my brothers, and I will be the stand in for the father himself. I know that I will never be the man Daddy was, but I can aspire to be. In that effort, he remains my inspiration, my father.

My only remaining question is, who will be proud of me now?

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