It was three weeks ago today my dad died, and I must tell you that in that time I think that my family and I feel somewhat liberated because we’ve now been more able to reflect on the man as he once was, and he is now all of a sudden much closer to all of us.
When we were children, I think my sisters and brother would agree with me that we thought our dad knew everything and could do anything. I think Dad didn’t do much to dispel that notion. To us, he seemed larger than life: he was a gifted teacher, and he knew about literature and art, about music, and history, and algebra. At one point I think he knew by memory all five acts of Hamlet. He could sing so beautifully, he was a wonderful actor and director, and yet he could fix the car, he could build bookcases and hang wallpaper and put up paneling, and he could show us the planets through a telescope, and point out all the constellations. He was a wonderful photographer, and he would develop the pictures he took. He collected stamps from around the world. He was a birdwatcher, he grew roses and peonies, he hiked his beloved Long Trail in Vermont, and he played tennis and golf.
He had so many enthusiasms, so many passions. Yet his capacity for generosity almost overshadowed this. It seemed that enjoying all these pleasures was never enough—it was so important to him to share what he loved. If Dad watched a good movie or concert on TV, he would gleefully tell you about how wonderful it was and then invite you in so you and he could watch it together. If you liked it as much as he did, or even if you didn’t, you would soon be the owner of a copy. If he enjoyed a book, he would not just tell you about, he would read some of it to you. A new Cecilia Bartoli CD would mean a copy on a cassette for all his friends and neighbors. Of course his enthusiasm also carried to ideas. On more than one occasion, Dad invited Jehovah’s Witnesses, proselytizing at the door, into his living room, in order to share his own Anglo-Catholic views on Christianity and do a little proselytizing of his own.
His greatest passion was for my mother. They adored each other--they truly had one of the great marriages. Perhaps this was the greatest gift to their children, as it no doubt helped us to live and grow in our own marriages. I’d like to share a little vignette, played out dozens if not hundreds of times: my mom and dad sitting in their living room, and, getting on in the evening, my mother would put her book down and get up from her chair, and say she was going to bed. As she walked by my father’s chair, he would take her hand, and she would bend down for a little smooch. “Good night darling,” he would say, “I’ll be up in a little while.”
An easy, quiet moment between them, not a big deal, but a memory for me which seems to capture the spirit of their enduring affection for each other.
To quote from my father’s favorite writer I would like to say:
Good night, sweet prince, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.