How do I Mourn the Death of a Father I Wasn’t Close to?
I can remember back to when I was 5 years old and I would sit with my mom and 7 year older brother in front of the big living room window looking out into the night. Sometimes we would watch the lightning storms, counting the seconds to the next thunder clap. Mom would say the heart of the storm was only a mile away for each second between the lightning and the thunder. As the time in between got shorter, it was scary.
Sometimes we would play a game. It would be to guess the number of cars that would pass by before dad’s car parked in front of the house. My mom loved that game because she loved my dad and couldn’t wait for him to come home. I wasn’t very excited to see him and actually felt guilty about feeling like I wished he didn’t come home at all. He was scary to me.
My dad’s dad came to the United States through Ellis Island like many Eastern European Jews did in the early 1900’s. My dad was born in Brooklyn and grew up during the great depression of the 1920’s. He fought in WWII as a bombardier in a B17. Despite his small physical size my dad was strong and tough. He was tough in business, tough on my mom and tough on me and my brother. Too tough for me to ever get very close to him. Too tough the one time he thought I lied to him (I didn’t) and he whipped me with his special discipline belt, he would having hanging in the hall closet for such an occasion.
I vowed when I had kids, I would treat them differently. I would be much gentler and try to show them love and kindness. It was a good thing because, I had five children and I ended up being both mom and dad to them when their mother left us for good 20 years ago. Today, my children are all grown and successful, we are close and I believe they have just the right balance of fear, respect and appreciation for me.
When my dad passed away in the early 1990’s of pancreatic cancer, I felt guilty again. I wasn’t really that sad, I didn’t cry and I only felt bad for my mom, who was clearly devastated. But as the years have passed raising my children on my own, running and growing the business my dad and mom started, and seeing life through more experienced eyes, I have come to appreciate my dad more and more.
He had a talent for delivering coarse wisdom in one-liners: “if you want to know what a woman is like, make sure you know her mother.” He also was a fantastic business negotiator. He had a sixth sense for what the cost of an item was and as a result could drive any negotiation to the best deal. He was generous to a fault – if I just looked the steak on his plate, without hesitation, he’d give it to me. I know he loved me – in his own way.
Today, when I look at how I treat my children, or when engaged in a business transaction and I have an imaginary conversation with myself asking what would my dad do in this situation, or I recall one of his prophetic one-line wisdoms, I am grateful for all he taught me. I am also grateful for my physical strength, which I inherited from him and has been the foundation for my mental and emotional strength through difficult times.
I never mourned my dad’s passing in the traditional sense and I have spent many years trying to reconcile the whys of that. Today, I prefer to think about all of the things that he has given me in my life and helped me become the man and father I am today. So I mourn him with gratitude.
Dad, I never got to say this to you in person, so I hope you are listening from wherever you are now:
Thank you dad.