Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Daddy

(I'm traveling. Having too much fun to stop and tell you all about it. Instead, I'm saying Happy Birthday to my much loved, if very confusing, father, once again.)

It was always very confusing - was his birthday the 12th or the 14th of October?  One of them was Columbus Day and the other was Herb's Day and to this moment I still have to stop and think.... and it's gotten harder since the bureaucrats moved Chris's Day to the generic.... how can something have occurred on "the second Monday of the month" every year?

But he was around me in spirit at the wedding, and he's not having an easy time returning to his life on the other side.

Yes, I am much happier blaming him for intruding than wondering why I am conversing with dead people.

We're not so much conversing as he is hovering and I am feeling nudged.  I misplaced the hiking pole I've been using to keep me balanced and symmetrical.... for a change... if it's not the pole it's my keys or the Kindle or my grocery list.... it's who I am these days.  I used the metal one with the "I Love Tucson" sticker crookedly affixed just below the grip, but it looks too much like rehab and not enough like life.  Then, I found myself and Daddooooo in the potting shed leaning on the wall above the bucket of handmade walking sticks he'd crafted from fallen branches of the pin oak in the backyard.

I have been using the one that was G'ma's - before she graduated to the walker - all day.  Herb's been chattering in my ear the whole time.

That was his way.  Deaf-as-a-doornail with hearing aid batteries constantly squealing or dying or resting comfortably in the breast pocket of his plaid wash-and-wear shirt, he monopolized the conversation so that he would know what was going on. That works well until your audience hits second grade or so; after that, it becomes a full fledged "Herb Attack."

I know this because I have been guilty of them, myself.

His tales were fascinating.  If the facts weren't really facts, well,  they should have been.  He went to City College with Richard Feynman.  He lived down the block from Jonas Salk. He knew every cobblestone, every cornerstone, every brick and street sign in Manhattan.  Serving as tour guide in The Big Apple made him about as happy as anything else I can imagine... and I've been sitting here thinking about it for a while.

Surrounded by his grandchildren-of-a-certain-age, those who were sentient but not yet sarcastic, he was the tour guide of his own life.  He could sit for hours, regaling them with stories about the chickens they raised in the backyard on Hessler Avenue, about the boat he and his brothers built one summer... the boat that almost floated, about the time it rained frogs and about all the times he got into trouble at school, because he just wouldn't stay still.

He probably deserved a diagnosis or medication; for those born in 1916 those options were nowhere on the horizon.  He was "just being Herbert." He continued being just himself, sui generis as I called him in the obituary I wrote for the New York Times, until the very end.

He died at home, between the first and second commercial of the 10 o'clock episode of Law and Order on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving.  There's some confusion about the date, since the hospice nurse didn't get there to sign the death certificate until early Sunday morning.  Like his birthday, I need cues to keep the date straight.  As with most things Daddooooo related, this is not easy.

As the gurney transported him from his bedroom to the front door, G'ma leaned over, kissed him, then admonished him, one last time, "Behave yourself, Herbert!  Don't give them any trouble."  The paramedics were bemused.  My mother looked right back at them.  "If you'd kown him, you'd understand."

Happy Birthday, you strange and singular father of mine.  Happy Birthday to YOU!


  1. OMG, I'm sitting here chuckling. The thought of your mom chastising your dad--even after he died. It's so amusing and touching at the same time. I bet he was one of those people you find fun to be around. At least he sounds that way to me.

    Hope you are enjoying your traveling.


    Megan xxx

    1. He was fun until you were 7 or 8 and realized that he was still stuck at 6!
      still, I miss him every day

  2. My mother would be 100 on the 16th, but I have trouble with the date, trying to make her birthday the 14th because she was born in 1914.


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