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The Final Father's Day
Father's Day 2023
My father has been dead for four months. I’ve been in Texas for nearly three. Since my arrival in Texas, I’ve had several dreams that were so vivid and real, upon waking, I 100% thought my father was still alive for several minutes.
So that’s been disorienting.
And since father’s day is today, I figured I should discuss him a little.
In the long run, my father was lucky that he turned into a functional, sane human being. His mother, at 17, left high school and married a World War II vet who just got off the PT boat coming back from Europe (imagine coming back across the Atlantic in a speed boat). His parents moved in with his mother’s parents—since the brownstone was built, only one family lived in that brownstone for 100 years.
Dad grew up in an abusive household—some of it was physically abusive, but mostly it was emotional abuse. Dad’s father was a drunk who abandoned the household when my father was 17. Dad’s mother was a narcissist and a sociopath who viewed him as a toy to play dress-up with— and she’d buy clothing that was too small for him, because “her little baby would lose the weight.”
Dad’s major survival tool was reading. The family library contains a one-volume Complete Sherlock Holmes that he received at Christmas when he was 10. As he put it, books have been better friends to him than most people. I just thought that it meant Dad had met people.
Living with his parents gave Dad an ulcer from age 8. And living with just his mother continued the development.
Dad originally wanted to be a doctor, but when he graduated with his degree in biology, he concluded he didn’t have the grades. Dad’s solution was to go with where his grades were—philosophy. Dad would follow the career path into academia. He would become a Thomist philosophy and end up with professor Sydney Hook, secular humanist, as one of his professors.
Despite being a PhD in philosophy, dad always ended up as an administrator as well as a professor. First he was in Caldwell College in New Jersey, which helped me identify where The Sopranos took place. After a decade, hen they fired him (his tenor was with the department, not the college… so they closed the department).
Dad grew up in the family brownstone and had to bribe his way into a different apartment in the same building. He drove from where he lived in Maspeth Queens to teach in Cauldwell, NJ, to PhD classes he took at New York University.
In the middle of this, in 1975, my father got sucked into a job in Bed-Sty, Brooklyn. One of his classmates from his masters degrees was a Catholic priest. Somehow, this turned into my father becoming an assistant pastor.
It turned into a novel where a PhD gets highjacked by a priest to work as an assistant pastor, and the local jerk gets killed.
Yes, I helped my father get that one polished and published.
My father married in 1977, and ended up being employed by Saint John’s University — where he went for his BA, his MA, where he met mom, where half of my family went… etc. It was very much a family disease.
For the first decade of my life, and beyond, Dad’s schedule made him come home at 7:30 at night. So he wasn’t around a lot until the middle of high school.
So if there are gaps in my ability to act like a person, that is in part because my father was one of the first generation of broken families. Dad never had someone who throw a football with, or look under the hood of a car with.
But Dad gave me quite a bit. He encouraged my writing, and read everything I had written from the time I was 16 until the day he died. Dad made omelets every Sunday that were good enough I wanted to recreate them, and I ended up cooking 75% of the household meals since I was 16 (my mother had had surgery and my sister was studying abroad for a semester), and now I cook … almost all the meals. Dad gave me love, and he gave me books, which are very much the same thing. And other stuff.
The only annoying thing is that Dad said he was going to come with me to Texas, and reread all my books … which probably means that he’s already read all of the books I will have ever written. And I haven’t even written them all yet.
But as I said, given everything Dad went through, he came out reasonably sane and normal. He clothed and sheltered those who needed it. He made certain to give at least 10% of his annual salary away each year.
Despite everything that happened to Dad growing up, he ended up doing the best he could with what he had, and that’s all any of us can hope to do, now isn’t it?
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