Fifty Years Later I Can Still Hear My Father’s Voice

This upcoming January 27th will mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s death.  That is a half a century ago when I was 14 years old.

Life’s not fair as we all know.  Some parents die early but others live long.  For example, director Steven Spielberg’s father died in 2020 at age 103.  That’s 43 more years than my Dad had.  How lucky Spielberg was to have had his father for 73 years.

His father lived long enough to see his children become senior citizens and all that goes with that age such as personal successes and to experience great-grandchildren.

My dad never lived long enough to see how us three children turned out.  He never knew any of our spouses or children; he didn’t even live long enough to see me leave junior high school.

At 11, the only grandparent I ever knew, my father’s mother, died.  That was the first time I attended a funeral.  And the first time I ever saw a dead body in a casket.

A major part of my childhood evaporated, the fantasy in one’s head that people live forever.

Ever since then, I haven’t been able to escape that dreadful thought of how short life is, so when my father died a few years later, it cemented that dreadfulness into my psyche.

If there was anything even remotely positive about going through this, it was the philosophy to not take life for granted.  Embrace each day as a gift.  One never knows when your eyes won’t open again.

As the years go by, the memories of my father fade just a little bit.  While we have several photos and home movies of Dad, there was no way to hear his voice again.  I recalled a recording he made on the large reel-to-reel tape recorder. 

Sometimes when he would not be home in the morning when us three kids woke up, he’d leave behind a handwritten note.  This one time instead of writing his message, he recorded it. 

Months ago, we got the broken machine fixed, and after scouring dozens of tapes, there was Dad speaking to us again.  It was the first time hearing his voice in decades.  The message only lasts a little over half a minute, but it is the most precious thing he left for us.

Now my children can finally put a voice to the old images I’ve shown them of their Grandpa Harvey.

Saying goodbye to your child and his childhood is hard to do

Just a few weeks ago Dads Take Your Child to School day occurred in New York City. Another one of those head-scratching official proclamations that makes one wonder: do we really need to remind parents to do parent-like things?

For me, taking my youngest son to school is a pleasure, especially since I rarely do it due to my work schedule; my wife usually drops him off.

Whenever my wife can’t, I get to take my little 5th grader to his elementary school.   Only it is not a drop off.

After we get out of the car, we walk to the school gate, the closest point outside school grounds where parents are allowed to congregate.   Past the gate, parents must remain behind as their children walk on alone.

While most kids carry their backpacks as they walk to school, I willingly carry my son’s; after all, the backpack is much too heavy for his still growing spine.

When I hand off the bundle that would be charged extra if checked onto an airplane, I give him a tight hug, encourage him to do well on that day’s assignments, remind him that “Daddy loves you,” stand away from the small group of guardians in order to be better seen, make eye contact with him through the apertures of the chain link fence, and wave both of my arms as if I’m doing jumping jacks.   Looking ridiculous to others around me is the last thing on my mind.

My son is at an age where a full blown wave might make him look too much like daddy’s little boy to his peers so he settles for a half-wave with his left hand, arm bent at the elbow. He turns towards where his classmates line up, and every 10 seconds repeats his turning back with the half-wave as he maintains his forward march.

This dance of ours continues until he blends in with a sea of other blue/green backpacks 40 yards away.

Not until I am secure that he can no longer see me do I walk away.

What races through my mind is a mosaic of memories from my own childhood and from his, of saying goodbye to parents and children.

How quickly they outgrow the cute sailor suit in the window of the children’s clothing store, the swings on the playground, the annual trip to Legoland.

The next transformation will occur when the little boy skin symbolically falls away replaced with an adolescent armor, impenetrable by hugs and kisses.

With my oldest boy, I’m lucky if I get in a pat on the back goodbye.

What a shame that childhood can’t be twice as long, shielding them from the ugliness of the world that seems to worsen with each tomorrow, from Ebola epidemics to ISIS beheadings, before their enchantment of life evaporates.

Only 145 days remain of the current school year.   Hopefully I get to take my son to school a few more times before his wave turns into a shrug, his glance back is no more when he moves on to middle school. If only every day was a Dads Take Your Child day.







My Father’s Centennial

This past Christmas my father would have turned 100 years old.  This upcoming January is the 40thanniversary of his death.  Two milestones each on the opposite end of the spectrum.

My childhood Christmases had two sides to them. First, was the magical morning of seeing what Santa brought us, tearing open presents, and playing with all the toys and games.

Then, after Mom made a traditional full breakfast with hash browns and bacon, a time came when Dad told us we would have to get dressed to go to his first born’s house (from an earlier marriage) for dinner to celebrate his birthday. 

I resented having to get dressed on such a wondrous day and to leave behind all my new bounty of gifts.  But this was one of the few days of the year when we had to visit my half-sister and her family, wanting to please our dad.

My father loved being a father. He made sure his kids had all they could eat, had a roof over their heads, and presents on their birthdays and Christmas.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much a sacrifice he had to make in order to provide for us in this way.

I was the last born in my family when my Dad was age 45. Smoking leading to lung cancer shortened his life, and when I was 14 years old, shortly after turning 60, Dad died.

Losing a parent at a young age is something that a young child can’t fully get a handle on due to lack of life experience.  Dad’s death was harder on my Mom, brother and sister since they lived more of their lives with him than I did.

As I’ve grown older, I think of him now and then at how he would react to certain events in my life. The memories I have of time spent with Dad seem like old TV shows I used to watch, fading with each passing year.  There aren’t that many photos of him, and whenever one is discovered it’s like buried treasure. We have home movies which have few shots of him since he was the primary cameraman. There are a few reel to reel audio tapes which has his voice on it. But most precious is a note he wrote to me when we had an argument and he wanted to apologize.

Losing a parent is never easy. I have a friend in her 50s whose parents are still living well. I’ve been fatherless for four decades. However, the 14 years of life spent with my Dad have been a flame inside me that has remained lit, and I hope to continue carrying the torch of his fatherly impressions as long as I live.