Long before it was Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, December 8th was Daddy’s birthday. I loved that.
My birthday was December 7th. Our birthdays were touching. I felt bad for Mommy whose birthday was all alone in January.
Two days after his birthday in 1972, Daddy had his final heart attack. I was able to see him in the hospital the next day. He wasn’t conscious, sleeping or in a coma, I didn’t know.
Sometime, over night between December 11th and 12th, I got a call from the hospital. My father was gone.
I never saw him again. Typical of Daddy, he had arranged to donate his body to Downstate Medical Center so that students there could learn to be doctors. Downstate whisked up his body. I never learned what they did with it when the medical students were finished.
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha: the mantra chanted at the end of the Heart Sutra.
Gate is “gone.”
It occurred to me recently that my father has been gone now 50 years. When I stopped to calculate, I realized 51. He’s been gone for most of my life. It’s all so crazy.
I remember the rainy night in late November, I must have been 3 years old when he came home from the Navy. His first Thanksgiving home, he made mincemeat pie from scratch, chopping on the counter in our tiny kitchen, I could barely see over the counter edge. I remember the bedtime stories he told me. I remember our trips to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers and to Madison Square Garden to see the Knicks. I remember the picnics at Jones Beach. I remember him teaching me to ride a bike in the Grand Union parking lot.
I remember his cabinet shop and his oil paintings and his copper sculpture. I remember listening to him talk and play guitar and sing folk songs. I remember learning to play chess with him and learning to read.
“Daddy, what does w-h-a-t spell?”
I thought he didn’t hear me. “What does w-h-a-t spell?”
I was getting frustrated. Did I scream? “What does w-h-a-t spell?”
“W-h-a-t spells ‘what.’”
I remember his big armchair and his old cars, first a tan ’36 Ford and then a ’38 Desoto. It was the 1950’s. We had the oldest cars in Great Neck.
I remember how Daddy drove me to school every morning after we dropped Mommy at the train station, and how he would pick me up from my friends’ houses on his way home from work.
I remember when he smoked Pall Malls and when he quit. His cigarette substitute was lifesavers. He always had lifesavers in his pocket then, which was a great treat for a kid. His secret formula for quitting smoking was three life savers in his mouth at the same time, a peppermint, a wintergreen, and a butterscotch. I tried the combination once. Disgusting.
He had been skinny all his life, and suddenly, off nicotine, he was developing a pot. Mommy had been dieting all my life. I was chubby. Mommy tried to help me. We had only skim milk in the house all my growing up years. Suddenly, Daddy was conscious about what he was eating. He had never eaten salad. Mom had always wanted him to because she wanted me to eat salad. Suddenly, Daddy was devouring huge salads. Are you surprised that I’m now eating a big salad almost everyday?
I loved to talk to Daddy. We talked about sports. We talked about books. I loved to hear him talk.
When he died, he was the first important person in my life that I lost. My grandparents were all gone. I loved them, but they weren’t people I talked to. Two friends had died in college.
A childhood friend had died our freshman year of college. He was flying home for the Christmas break when two planes collided over Park Slope. He was on one of those planes, but we hadn’t been close for years, really since elementary school.
My first summer love died, it wasn’t clear how, during her first year of social work school. It was shocking, and we didn’t know how she died. I worried that it was suicide. But that summer of love was already two years in the past. That was a very long time at that age.
Paragate, “gone to the other shore.”
Losing Daddy was different. I was working in Brooklyn then and living in Manhattan, driving my Volkswagen beetle back and forth each day. Driving home across the Brooklyn Bridge, as I approached the exit ramp in Manhattan, thinking about the day, I would say to myself, “I have to tell Daddy about this,” before I remembered that I couldn’t call him on the phone when I got home.
Fifty-one years now. More than half my life.
I wish Dee could have known him. He would have loved her. Daddy has a granddaughter now that he never met. And she is so much like him in so many ways, so smart, so creative, such a caring person. So many times now, Morri says things, and all I can think and say is, “Your grandfather would be so proud of you. There is so much of him in you.”
Parasamgate, sometimes translated “completely gone,” sometimes “gone together.” Well, Daddy has been gone a long time, and he is still here, and we are all together. I don’t talk to him in the same way that I did 50 years ago, but he is still here with me as I’m writing.
Is he painting as I write? His paintings are hanging on the walls.
I was so much younger when he died. I barely noticed that there were no remains, didn’t really notice until 30 years later when I brought the urn with Mommy’s ashes home. Mommy is on my altar. I wish my daddy was there too. And there are pictures. I look at Daddy. His is still so present.
Bodhi, “enlightenment.” Is this enlightenment?
And Amen to Emma’s Place. I hope you haven’t forgotten about them and the haven
they provide for kids who have lost a parent or a sibling. They do wonderful work. Want to help some kids who are grieving? It’s easy. Just log onto https://emmasplacesi.org/donate/ .
Want to make me happy? In the message space, write “Ken’s mala” and donate at least $108. Do that, and I’ll burn your name on a bead on my new mala. I’ll wear it everywhere. You will be with me on my journey. I would love that.