He loved animal jokes. Take any story about a priest, a rabbi, and a pastor walking into a bar and recast it with a fox, a squirrel, and a raccoon, and he’d be rolling on the floor. There was something about the gentle world of “The Wind in the Willows” and the adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Woods that told us what a gentle and humble man he was: giving, loving, flawed, human, and who tried his best to do what he could for his family, his friends, and his community.
There are so many memories that he created with us. Teaching his children how to sail, taking us to baseball and football games, teaching us how to play golf, taking us skiing, sharing the little things that brought him joy, and giving of himself in ways that we didn’t realize until we were older, and setting examples for his children and how to raise their own children. Yes, of course we had our struggles; no family or marriage lasts nearly seventy-two years without them. He had disappointments and made mistakes. He would be the first to admit them. But through it all, the basic goodness of my father withstood it and came through to the other side.
He and Mom raised four children who could not be any more different from each other, and yet there’s something of him in all of us aside from the DNA. I know that for myself, my love of a good story about sailing and an appreciation of a quiet afternoon listening to the Tigers on the back porch or taking a walk to go bird-watching came from his side of the family. It melded well with the appreciation for jazz and certain art forms that I got from Mom to become what I am. I know my path through life probably wasn’t what he envisioned, but through it all I knew I had his support, guidance, and love.
He loved us all, even when we mocked him for it. In the middle of one our many raucous family “discussions,” he would plead with us to “love one another,” as if that would solve all our problems. We even found a sign that hung over our kitchen fireplace with that plea on it. But I think he gets the last word because when you get right down to it, that’s all he ever wanted for us. He welcomed the new members of the family: husbands, wives, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with nothing but unconditional love.
I am glad I was able to see him a few weeks ago through the dance of pixels and electrons of Zoom. All of us were there on the screen, and Dad looked pretty good for someone in his condition. He waved to us and said he loved us. I hoped against hope that it would not be the last time I saw him; that after this was all over I would get to be with him and share the two books I sent him: “Swallows and Amazons,” the books from his childhood that he shared with me and taught me to love good writing and sailing, and the “Field Guide to the Birds” by Roger Tory Peterson, the book that we shared when we walked through the woods or watched them at the bird-feeders. Those books were on the shelf in his room when he slipped away. That was as close as I could be to him, and it was all I could ask.
One last thing: Hey, Dad, did you hear the one about the fox, the squirrel, and the raccoon? It’s a really good one.