My Mother turned toward me:
Aren’t you disappointed that Daddy hasn’t called?
Yes, Mama, I’m disappointed.
She sighed, eyes downcast:
I never thought he would do this to us.
At the time of this conversation, my Father had been dead for thirty years.
I have written about my efforts to accommodate my Mother’s version of events, however fantastical or off beat. With the mantra do not argue, I would agree with her assertions; accentuate the positive; change the topic. With clever phrases or funny asides, I would say anything to avoid conflict; anger; recriminations.
But when it came to discussing my Dad, I faltered. I could not play the dementia game.
My Dad has been dead for 37 years but I feel his presence every day. He approached everything, from his job in classical music to the latest Dodgers game, with a fierce intelligence and unquenchable fervor. Our lives pulsated to the soundtrack of his enthusiasms and his temperament. When he liked something–and it was often– his eyes lit up and his words tumbled at a lightening pace, as if his mind were on fire.
And he wanted us to share his joy. He read George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton aloud– when we were just little girls. He surprised us with tickets to the Beatles concert or the latest Beach Boys album. He took us to see John Gielgud act; Bob Gibson pitch; the Bolshoi dance—because, he said,
you need to know there is greatness in this world.
When I was 12 years old, a local college invited him to deliver one of its “Great Man Lectures.” I remember being dazzled, primarily by the fact that Alfred Hitchcock had been the previous month’s speaker. In my mind, Alfred Hitchcock was a Great Man.
This man was my Daddy.
My Daddy, who worked hard to give me moments of wonder and excitement and grace. Without a car to traverse LA, he traveled all day on city buses in search of 4th of July fireworks. After a long day at work, he took me to the Griffith Park Observatory to see the magical Saturn. Knowing it could become a life-long memory, he awakened me to hear the final innings of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game (Hallie– are you awake? I think you need to get up…I think Sandy is going to pitch a perfect game!).
My great man.
One of those indelible moments unfolded while we watched the movie Carousel on late night TV. At the finale, I fought tears as the entire cast began to sing the uplifting, heart wrenching
When you walk through a storm…
My teenage self could not let him see that this unabashedly sentimental story was ripping me apart. As I watched the daughter’s graduation scene, I battled every emotion; my head aching with trapped tears
And don’t be afraid of the dark…
As the voices swelled, I glanced at my father. I was astonished. Tears flowed down his face. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. His tears absolved me, and together we cried as the lyrics reverberated:
Walk on, walk on,
With hope in your heart,
And you’ll never walk alone…
I recently learned of my parents’ tremendous efforts to assure my Dad could attend my college graduation. He was battling cancer. Correction: they were battling his cancer. They strategically scheduled his chemotherapy so he would be his strongest when the day arrived. My Mom’s best friend drove them to the campus, only to discover their car would not be allowed within an easy walking distance.
They did not give up. I am told that my parents steeled themselves for a grueling trek in the hot Los Angeles sun; my dad weak but determined. They sat in the uncomfortable stands of UCLA’s outdoor track and field stadium; the unrelenting sun beating down.
And there I was; a little speck in cap and gown across the playing field among thousands of identically- dressed little specks in caps and gowns. It never occurred to me that they had made a huge sacrifice to be there. And it never occurred to me that the day was anything less than magnificent.
He died within months. Devastated, abandoned, stricken; my sorrow knew no bounds. And thirty-seven years later, while the passage of time has altered my pain,
I have never stopped missing him.
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown…
End of Part 1
You’ll Never Walk Alone, composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, published by R&H Music Publishing Company, an Imagem Company, All Rights Reserved