My dad is a very private man, often prioritizing the writing of his latest play, novel, or short story over friends and family. He is a very good writer receiving praise from all who have read his works. Unfortunately, his lifelong dream of publication never happened. After his wife (my stepmom) died a few years ago, he suddenly became more parental. Was it because he was the last standing parent (my mom and stepfather died recently)? Did the onslaught of COVID scare him into paternal feelings? One will never know as he passed away just a couple of weeks ago.
His increased parental nature was a welcome sight to both me and my sister. We enjoyed the communication through emails. He was hard of hearing, so the phone was not an option. He eschewed zoom calls until the very end when he was a shell of his former self. Nonetheless, the communication was welcomed in any format we could receive. We even visited him more often, me a few times on my own and a few times with Kathryn. And the coup de gras was a visit by all four of us (Kathryn, Beth – my sister, and her husband Tom). Kathryn and I made the trek to Lancaster, PA from Scottsdale while Beth and Tom from Massachusetts.
It was three days of stories old and new, dinners out at his favorite restaurant, and afternoon coffees. As the visit progressed, we all realized it would be our last time together. My dad’s health was failing quickly, each day worse than the last. There would be no more good days. As we all left his condo in Lancaster for the last time, we knew it was goodbye – the big goodbye. My dad said I love you, not to me but to my sister. Men in his lineage didn’t say I love you to other men, even if it is their son. But I knew just the same.
He died just a couple of months later, living in his home to the last possible minute. He wanted to be surrounded by his books (he was an avid book collector) and his faithful dog, Pinter. I’ll miss many things about him: talking Yankee baseball, playing chess and backgammon, pizza dinners – anchovy for him and pepperoni for me, late night snacks of roast beef and rye bread, breakfasts of kippers and rye bread, noir film recommendations, watching Star Trek and the Avengers (the real avengers with John Steed and Emma Peel), talking Ellery Queen stuff, and sharing a good bottle of Sancerre.
All this and no mention of photography in a photography blog? A few years ago, I wrote about losing my biggest fan when my mother passed. My father read it and mentioned that it was a nice obituary. This is perhaps the nicest thing he had to say about my mom since they divorced in 1972. It took until her death! But it probably got him thinking. Suddenly, he started commenting on my photos and my blogs. He loved the photos while liking the blogs a bit less. Being an English teacher and a serious writer, his standards were high. Even so, he occasionally would say my stories were good. Aha! I had a new biggest fan. When we were together, he would ask about my travels and my photos. I would tell him everything, often putting him to sleep. Hey dad, don’t you want to hear some more?
In his last days at hospice, I could hear him talking to me. “Jeff, take some of the money I am leaving you and buy a new camera system.” In his own way, this was him telling me he loved me. So, I bought one.
Goodbye, dad. Our lives are less full without you.
There have been other obituaries written, each providing additional information about my dad. I was co-author for the one from Lancaster, so very much worth the read. There is another from the editor of my grandfather’s magazine, also interesting.