My father died March 10, 1996, at the age of 85. He died after suffering five years with pulmonary fibrosis, a calcification of the lungs. Over the five years, his ability to breathe became more and more impossible, and eventually, he suffocated to death. It was not pretty. Twenty-five years earlier, he'd been treated for what was diagnosed as an incurable lung cancer and given six months to live. Dad was put on an experimental form of treatment which involved radiation, and then chemo. Two and one half years later, he was still alive, and cancer-free. Quite a miracle.
Dad was one of those hale-fellow well met kinds of guys: always quick with a joke, and quite charming. His friends loved him, and so did I. He was the one who encouraged me as an artist, although he could not understand why I didn't want to be a commercial artist. He was the one who I told when I decided to drop out of college and move to Israel. He was my dad, and I adored him.
His funeral was small, because he'd outlived all his friends and all but three of his sisters. Of those, one had become a recluse and we never saw her again. She died last month. Still, as small as the funeral was, my cousin's eulogy was telling - people loved my dad.
He used to let me sit on his lap and drink sips of his beer or scotch when I was a little girl. We'd sit at the kitchen table playing cards if he was in a good mood (beer nights) or me in his lap if he was in a bad mood (solitare and scotch.) He let me get away with everything (although he did want to take my bag of weed to the police to have it analyzed after my brother and I told him it was oregano.) He was kind, and he was liberal and he was intelligent, but he was also a mess.
One year, he decided he wanted to buy a turkey farm in Zion, Illinois. I was about seven years old. Here we were, a Jewish family who knew nothing about farming (I thought milk came from glass bottles) and he piled us into the car, drove us to Zion (a very fundamentalist Christian city) and went to look at the farm. My mother cried her eyes out. I was afraid of the turkeys and my brother (he was twelve) started to chase them around. We didn't get the farm. Instead, the week later, he bought my mother a pink and black Ford (she didn't know how to drive). It was hideous. It was her first car.
The night he died, we were sitting shiva at my brother's condo. A man came in, and sat with my brother and me to tell us a story. Years before, when this man was down and out, my father helped him out with a job. No one else would take a chance on this guy, but my father did. The young man became incredibly successful; he never forgot that my father helped him. He missed the funeral but he said he would never have forgiven himself had he not come to pay his respects. I still don't know the man's name, but I was moved beyond words.
Dad never had financial success. He was a business mess - he was just a mess, not another way to describe it. But he was kind, and loving, and charming, and I miss him. Happy Father's Day to my father, and to all the fathers whose children love them.