I spent time with my dad last night. It was his sixtieth birthday, and the entire family was gathered at the Crescent Beach Hotel in Rochester, New York, where I grew up. It had always been the site of our biggest celebrations, my engagement party, everything.
All white and gingerbready, the place looked like a wedding cake with lots of frosting. Plus, they served fantastic food.
My young wife spotted some of my cousins in the bar and suggested that I get in line, get us a table while she visited with them. She looked so beautiful in her summery white dress… certainly the most beautiful girl in the place, I thought. How could I say no?
So, I went to the line and was the first one there. I stood right in front of the maître d’, who looked very officious with his hands behind his back, his little mustache twitching, but his smile rather cold.
“You’ll have to wait,” he said. “You’re early, and the tables are not quite ready to be assigned.”
“Sure,” I answered as I eyed the clock above the entryway. But nearly half an hour later, I was still in line and furious. Dozens of couples, all dressed in their summer finery, had lined up behind me. A few had passed me and been seated.
My wife came over to ask about the delay. She was understanding, smiled at the maître d’. I was sure that would get us our table instantly. No luck.
Finally, Dad came by. He looked dignified in one of the new suites that a patient had made for him. He was a successful doctor whose clientele did just about everything, including—in Rochester—tailoring.
“All my brothers and sisters are here,” he said. “We’re having a wonderful visit.” And then he burst into tears. Dad was a softie, a hero from the second world war, who had saved some wounded kid’s life during an attack on the field hospital. Dad threw his body over the boy. Guess you never get over those kinds of experiences. They make you more sensitive, I guess.
SO, Now, Dad cried when they played the national anthem at the start of a baseball game, or on anyone’s birthday, or for pretty much any reason at all.
But then we talked, dad and I… one of our long ones when he would give me such supportive advice about life and work and everything. I always followed his advice…. felt I had to. He knew what he was talking about.
When my dad died, I didn’t cry for a long time. I just felt numb. Then one day, I took myself out to our summer place, locked myself in our old barn, in a brand tew room he’d built inside it, and I broke down.
“Dad, why can’t I talk to you anymore?” I sobbed. I was in there for over an hour, crying… just like my dad.
But I did talk to dad last night… in a dream that was just so real I knew he was with me. I still feel his presence now as I’m writing this.
That’s the main thing. There is just an incredible sense of his company and the well-being that came with it.
No one else in our family has these kids of dreams. Dad never visits them. My mom told me she envied me. She called them visitations. And now she’s gone, and I’m getting damn old myself.
Dad never reached the age of 60, never had that party, never spent that time with his brothers and sisters. But he talked to me last night, evoked those old feelings, and brought those familiar words came back to my lips this morning, the ones I said so often… but never enough.