Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Happy Birthday, Daddooooo!

My father has been present lately.  It's somewhat disconcerting, this feeling that he's hovering and judging.... always judging... and loving, always loving even if he didn't quite know how to show it without getting in his own way.

My children loved him.  My grandchildren and he would have made the most marvelous group of creative if somewhat bossy and demanding humans.  

He'd be celebrating his 104th birthday today, which took me a moment to get my head around.  He'd have been so angry at Donald Trump for his attitude, my father who put an American flag on his car during the Viet Nam war just to rile the hippies, who was a contratrian by nature, but who was, at heart, a good man.

I miss him.  

This is the post I was going to schedule on its own.  But I read it and it got me thinking, about him pulling us on sleds across Bethpage Golf Course, of flying kites on the beach and the high school field, of Carvel in our pajamas and pizzas at Vincents, and of how glad he was - always - to see me.
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'm still not sure, especially since the bureaucrats moved Chris's Day to the generic second Monday.

He was a confusing person, so this is not surprising.  I never knew if I wanted to hug him or throttle him.

Deaf-as-a-door-nail, hearing aid batteries constantly squealing or dying or resting comfortably in the breast pocket of his plaid wash-and-wear shirt, he monopolized conversations 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 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; born in 1916, 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.  Like most things Daddooooo related, this is not now nor has it ever been easy.

The funeral home attendants gave her a moment in the hallway before they wheeled him out the front door.  G'ma leaned over, kissed him, and 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 known him, you'd understand."

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


  1. October appears to be a month of birthdays, here we have four in the family. Terry's mother would have been 100 on the 13th and my mother would be 106 on the 16th. Our grandson turned 9 on the 3rd and his mother 42 on the 4th.

  2. lovely post. I enjoyed reading about your father.

    1. He's easier to think about than to be with, but I miss him nonetheless.


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