Ten years ago today, my father died. In his honor, I present the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service.
I have a running joke with my closest friend, Gilbert, who is also my daughter’s godfather, about New York being His City. I’m not sure, but I think it originally started immediately after September 11th, when he angrily asked, “How dare they do this to MY City?” He’s lived and worked there for many years, and loves it passionately, but long before it was Gilbert’s City, or indeed before there ever was a Gilbert, it was Dad’s City. He lived and worked there for years, too, and while he had moved to Easton by the time I came along, I doubt he ever considered himself as anything but A Somewhat Displaced New Yorker. (I, on the other hand, despite working there for seventeen years and even a brief token residence in Brooklyn, do not presume to call myself anything other than a Connecticutian.) I traveled to New York with my parents and various other friends and relations countless times over the years, but what I most remember were the trips when it was just the two of us, after my older brothers had discovered girls or gone off to college or whatever else took them away from the old homestead. And I focus on these not only because they are such an immediate association when I look back over “life with Father,” but also because they so perfectly represent what he was to me while I was growing up.
A lot of people commented on Saturday [during the calling hours] about that great photo of Dad from my brother Drew’s wedding, holding forth on some subject or other and looking terribly distinguished with a drink in his hand. That’s the Dad who made me his partner in crime—if you can call it a crime to spend some time and money in the greatest city in the world—impeccably dressed in his three-piece suit and, as often as not, brandishing a perfectly-furled bumbershoot. I was only ten when he came back from a hiking trip to Colorado with that beard, and I never saw him without it again. In addition to resulting in a good number of the endless nicknames I used to call him, to which I will subject neither you nor his memory, it just added to that air of elegant erudition. And Dad didn’t just look the part—he knew everything. New York is not a city you can master in a week, but he knew how to get everywhere, and all the good restaurants and stores—he was like a god to me. I can’t tell you how lucky I felt to have this guy as my mentor, protector, pal, and tour guide all rolled into one. Perhaps sensing my future among the directionally challenged, he would sometimes stop me in the middle of Manhattan and say, “Okay, which way are we going?” I’m proud to say I sometimes even got it right, and he also taught me the art of riding on the subway standing up without holding on.
I don’t think it’s too much of a blindingly original insight to say that a lot of people don’t fully appreciate what a good job their parents did—if indeed they ever do—until they become parents themselves, and one way in which I very consciously model myself after Dad in that department is in diligently introducing my daughter Alexandra to what I consider “The Good Stuff.” Of course, half of what I consider “The Good Stuff” comes straight from my Dad anyway, so there’s a very clear through-line there, and even though she obviously won’t embrace everything her father offers up to her, I feel a very strong responsibility at least to lead the horse to water, as it were. My Dad and I didn’t do a lot of those things that many fathers and sons do together, like fishing or going to baseball games, and I can’t say I have experienced a single second of regret over those omissions, but he certainly exposed me to a lot of culture and life lessons along the way, which wasn’t hard to do in a city as suffused with both of those things as New York is.
Dad felt in later years that I talked too much about movies, and since I know he’s not the only one who has held that opinion, I won’t argue the point, but I will say he had himself partly to blame. Some of my very earliest memories are of being taken to current films that were probably way over my head, and yet made an indelible impression on me nonetheless, but what was really special was going to see older movies with Dad in New York, usually uptown at the Regency, and occasionally downtown at the Quad, both of which I presume are now long gone. The most frequent reason for our little outings was for Dad to visit his dentist in the Chrysler Building; fortunately, the Chrysler Building is still standing, even if said dentist is not. Dad blessed me with an early appreciation for W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, and the Marx Brothers, and I enjoyed nothing more than sitting in the waiting room leafing through The New Yorker, back when it WAS The New Yorker (a Dad magazine if ever there was one), to see what gems were being revived that day. Believe it or not, kids, this was way before the days of VCRs and cable television—especially in Easton, of all places—and many of these movies simply did not pop up on TV. We saw stuff that I still consider rare, even in this era of DVDs and 500 channels.
And then, there was the food. This period pre-dated Dad’s latter-day romance with sushi, and it’s a shame, because we would certainly have consumed our respective body weights in what we Bradleys call “dead fish.” Of course, my body weight was a little less back then, but Dad always kept himself trim; I wish I had his discipline. What we did have, “back in the day,” was smorgasbord. I’m not talking about today’s all-you-can-eat-for-$8.95 generic buffets, but the real deal, elegantly arrayed on gigantic tables in authentic Scandinavian restaurants with names like, appropriately, the Stockholm and the Copenhagen. On Saturday, I encountered one of dad’s colleagues, Dr. Peter Shimkin—I say “encountered” rather than “met,” because I probably met him when I was about four, although my memories of the event are understandably dim—and positively genuflected when I learned that it was he who had introduced my Dad to the Copenhagen. Of course, Dad had his Gibson (before he stopped ordering them as “Gibsons,” after one too many waiters brought him a gimlet instead), and we always started with huge plates of shrimp, which they made us peel ourselves to discourage just such behavior, and after that it was all a delightful blur until we finished up with the Copenhagen’s amazing almond cookies.
Of course, they’re all gone now, just like Dad’s other favorite restaurant, Louise Jr., but by then he had discovered sushi, thank God. His City has sure gone through a lot of changes. I was always a big reader, and I remember one of our essential destinations was a place called Marlboro Books, which always seemed to have the best selection, again, back before Borders and the superstores. He used to stand there with his bumbershoot and his briefcase, waiting so patiently while I tracked down whatever I was looking for—Edgar Rice Burroughs was my big obsession when I was about Alexandra’s age—and it was pretty rare that we didn’t come home with some new treasures in that briefcase. And now Marlboro, too, is gone, and so is Dad, and yet he’s not, for I’m sure he’s somewhere, raising a glass in our direction, impeccable in his three-piece suit. And even if he’s not, I know that a large part of anything anybody finds admirable or likable in me is just him in another form. I know he didn’t believe in any kind of an afterlife, and yet I think it’s fair to say that he did have one, and that it’s in this very room right now. I miss you, Dad.
I recently discovered links to two professional articles that Dad, a radiologist by trade, co-authored: “Technique, Hazards, and Usefulness of Percutaneous Splenic Portography” (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 7, 1959, Vol. 169, No. 10) and “The Intrahepatic Vasculogram and Hepatogram in Cirrhosis Following Percutaneous Splenic Injection” (Radiology, August 1958). As a layman, I may not be able to understand them, but it’s nice to know that he lives on in another way as well.
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