My 51st birthday was last week.
I am now the age my father was when he died.
I look at the above sentences and try to make sense of them. Having lost a fair share of friends and acquaintances – to drugs, alcohol, AIDS, cancer, heart disease and accidents – I sometimes ponder why I am still fortunate enough to be here. I don’t think I’ve done anything special or extraordinary. I have not written the Great American Novel, invented a new medicine, built any great machines, served the world in any Nobel Prize-winning capacity.
As for my father; he died in 1982, before he saw much beyond the usual grind of day-to-day living. On the surface: a wife, three children, two nice homes, one nice (but much smaller) townhouse, a new car every few years and steady employment (until the heart attacks came). But out of sight of the everyday, there was more to him. He was a perfect party host, a real schmoozer, and the gatherings at our house were packed. He hunted (not so much for the shooting, but to spend time with friends). He was a volunteer firefighter, at a time when our town had no paid department. He loved good food, he could cook well and taught us to cook, too. He also believed in exposing us to restaurants and the experience of eating out in fancy places, so we would learn to appreciate other people’s cooking. He would take us into work with him, and trust us to walk the streets of Manhattan alone, while he worked in his small office in the Empire State Building.
He was not a perfect man. He had a temper that could be set off by small things. And he absolutely believed in corporal punishment. As kids, we hated that part of him. As adults, we understand him better: he did the best he could with what he knew, and with what he was given.
He always insisted that anything we did, whether it was homework, sports, the dinner dishes or a summer job, was done to the best of our ability. I’m trying, Dad. It’s not easy, staring down the hopes and dreams of a new and different Next Life. I don’t know if you would approve of my choice. I just hope you would appreciate the effort.