Theme and Variations Part 1

Dad in the sand

“Dad”–writing found in the sand June 12, 2013, Photo by Hallie Swift

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 Daddy.

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

A Swift Current || Theme and Variations Part 1 || When Your Walk Through A Storm

With Hope in Your Heart Photo by Hallie Swift

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


24 thoughts on “Theme and Variations Part 1

  1. So so moving! My Dad & I also listened together to a Sandy Koufax perfect game (maybe the same one?), as I kept score (on the scoresheets Dad taught me to keep) thrilled by the stirring play-by-play of the inimitable Vin Scully — a lifelong wonderful memory, which comforts me now, even as I miss Dad hugely every day…

    • Sandy pitched 4 no-hitters but only one was a perfect game so yes you and I were listening with our dads at the same time all those many years ago. It is one of the greatest examples of broadcast excellence ever…in fact the Dodgers issued a 45 PRM record of the 9th inning (which I still have); it was my Christmas present to my father that year…it is stunning how these moments reverberate decades later, but as you say provide so much comfort at the same time. Thank you for commenting, H

  2. A great way to end Part 1. You must consider doing this as a book. Now I will be anxiously awaiting Part 2. You can quit holding your breath–your writing is wonderful. My friend’s Mother who was suffering with dementia passed away last week and I went to the funeral home on Saturday. Your blog touches so many lives. I pray this does not happen to me!

    • Oh my, if I am correct, your friend’s mothers battle was stunningly fast. I am so sorry. Knowing my state of shock when my Mom died, despite her downward spiral, my heart goes out to your friend. I do hope my writing here helps her, which I hope doesn’t sound arrogant. When my Mom died, because of the circumstances I think people expected me to “recover” quickly. But as I try to say here, I “discovered” the death of an elderly parent heart wrenching despite age or illness. It is profound loss, pure and simple. Thank you again for commenting; I so appreciate your support, H

    • This one basically just flowed out of me. Well, more or less. I started with Part 2 (still under construction, as they say) and then realized that Part 2 wouldn’t mean as much if people didn’t know about my dad, who thus far as been absent from this discussion. And as I started writing about him, it was as though the words just tumbled onto the page. And I realized I had two separate pieces. Hence two parts, and thank you! H

      (And it was only when I was writing last week that I realized that Father’s Day was imminent, and then last night the scripted “Dad” in the sand, and it was as though I was being told NOW!)

    • Thank you. I am thrilled that you are here. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the reinforcement as more people start reading the blog and participating in comments. H

  3. Hallie,

    I feel so privileged to have been a part of your Dad’s “circle.” That he chose me to benefit from his “enthusiasm” is an honor. Just so you know, you are not alone in your memories of him…the record albums in your home, the warmth of his smile, the joy he had (and he gave to us) the night we experienced the Bolshoi together. As I write these words, I cry…tears for missing him,tear for your grief, and tears I know will come when I lose my Daddy (who turned 90 last Thursday!). Thank you for sharing your amazing writing, and your amazing Daddy, with me.

    Please keep writing…it is a gift.

    • Thank you Joanie. My dad was crazy about you and I know he was very happy that I had such smart girlfriends! Somehow I just love that we call these important, accomplished men in our lives…Daddy. Happy birthday to your dad and happy father’s day too, H

    • I thought that this week too…but on another topic! A friend of mine took a group of young people to see Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet at the American Ballet Theater…at my suggestion! It was one of my dad’s favorite pieces of music…and I was so thrilled that a new generation has heard the sweeping melodies, to say nothing of seeing the dance. It was as though I were able to pass along one of my parents gifts…

  4. The lump in my throat hurts!! How I miss my Daddy. Such comfort I get from knowing I will join him one day! Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thank you, Sharon. And it gives me comfort to know I am not alone in missing my dad. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who still mourns after so many years. But I believe we are all grieving in some way, just below the surface. I appreciate your comments, H

  5. As much as I revered and loved your mother it was nice to read and learn something about my Uncle. He passed away when I was very young but have fond memories nonetheless.

    • Thank you! When I started writing this post, I was not focused on the fact the Father’s day was on the horizon…I am happy that it coincided with this day of commemoration and good cheer…I appreciate your comment and support for my efforts here! H

  6. With Father’s Day upon us, your entry is so moving… it helps me to reflect fondly on my father who’s been gone for such a long time. A flawed man, yet as I’ve grown and matured, I take comfort in choosing to remember the good things about him. I am grateful that my daughter has a father that has shown her love, support, and remains steadfast in her growing and development.

    • Wow, Karen. It is very moving to me that my writing helps you focus on the good in your past as well as in the present. As I set out to write this blog, I hoped that my perspective would help people navigate tough (and even still) waters…that I achieved that for you with this post gives me a wonderful sense of fulfillment…Thank you, H

  7. A very moving tribute to your dad… and mum. I hope my sons would feel even a little like this about me, even though they are ‘losing’ me! Thank you for sharing xo

    • Thank you Kate for your comment. Our paths are quite different; I am sure there is a lot you can teach me as you confront dementia. I will be reading your blog. As I reflect on this topic, and witnessing the outpouring of emotion yesterday on Facebook in honor of Father’s Day, I think somehow it is the fate of parents not to know their impact, and that those of us left behind only realize in retrospect the enormous gifts we were given. I take heart in a conversation I had with my dad when I was a senior in high school; I had written a college application essay on one of those typically awful topics like “describe the 3 biggest influences in your life”. My dad asked to read the essay, and after reading it, he looked stunned. I had written about attending the John Gielgud performance (among other things). My dad told me he had no idea that these things had such an impact on me; I remembering his saying words to the effect: “you know, there is not instruction manual for being a parent. You just try all the things you can think of and hope you are not making too much of a mess of it.” He was truly moved that I felt these experiences were remarkable, and I hadn’t realized that I had never communicated it. Looking back, I am so glad that he read that essay, so in his heart he knew what a great dad he was. But I imagine most of us don’t even remotely think to thank our parents…until it is too late. And for better of worse, that is just the wheel of life…Thank you again for your participation here. I deeply appreciate it, H

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