As you may have noticed, I’ve been less than reliable with the posting for the last year. My dad, the whole reason I even have this passion for baseball, was sick for the past year and half. There was this time I was home and I had just finished watching the game with my him, and I went to my computer to write the recap and he says, "What are you doing?"
And, you know, I wasn't doing anything that was more fun than hanging out with my dad, so... it wasn't a hard choice.
Not that anything I could ever write about him would ever truly capture the superhuman force of nature that he was, but, as my dad always said, “Never strike out looking. At least try to hit it.”
I used to make up reasons to call my dad because I knew that, like me, he wasn’t a phone talker. The concept of calling “just to chat” was preposterous.
So I’d call him with some ruse, like “Dad, I’m completely blanking on this. But how many cans of tomatoes do I need for sauce? And do I need crushed or diced??”
I never tired of hearing my dad teach me about things, which was only partly due to my interest in learning about whatever subject he was talking about.
The majority of my interest stemmed from the sheer joy in listening to HOW my dad taught.
It was just complete lunacy most of the time, but yet with this air of specificity that made it authoritative.
Because everything Dad did was with not just with conviction but with this mysticism and excitement, like he was letting you in on a secret.
From as far back as I can remember, sitting at the kitchen island in my childhood house, watching him cook for their annual Memorial Day party, he’d narrate his cooking process. He’d have these inexplicably specific food measurements, like “You need exactly 3 and 1/3 sticks of celery CUT LONG WAYS. If you can’t cut it long ways, don’t bother making it.”
And then other times the measurements would be wildly vague, like: “All this says is ‘garlic.’ How much garlic does that mean?”
And he’d look at me like I just asked if we could rent a llama for the weekend, and say, “What do you mean, how much does it mean? It means all the garlic in the house.”
A few years ago, my sister Lauren got me a cell phone case for Christmas. I remember sitting in the living room with her and dad, as I tried slipping the plastic cover on my Blackberry only to discover it wasn’t fitting.
I was just about to ask if it was for the right model when Dad had already grabbed the phone and cover from my lap. “Here, I’ll do it. Let me take care of this.”
(As if he was privy to some insider info on the mechanics of cell phone accessories.)
But that’s the thing about my dad. He never let a lack of knowledge on a subject keep him from plowing ahead.
So he fiddles with it, sighing laboriously every now and then, over the distinct sound of plastic cracking…as he wrestled with the Blackberry and the now obviously wrong size cover. Finally he tossed it on the couch and announced, “Well, it doesn’t fit. That's the end of it.”
And that’s another thing about my dad. He is, in every sense of the phrase, the be all and end all. Nothing is over until my dad gives an official ruling that it’s impossible.
The concept of “impossible” wasn’t something my dad readily acknowledged, though. And I don’t mean in a sweaty determination, Nike-commercial kind of way. I mean it in a if-he-couldn’t-do-it, it-wasn’t-something-worth-doing-and-maybe-didn't-actually-even-exist-in-the-first-place kind of way.
For example, once when we had plans to get dinner, he decided that he couldn’t wait til our 6pm reservation, and wanted to eat at 4.
(The only time my dad ever entertained a modicum of patience was when he played poker. Beyond that, it was strictly, "Ok, ok, what's the bottom line, hurry it up here.")
So, ignoring our protests that restaurants typically aren’t open that early for dinner, he’s storming up and down the streets of Chelsea, and says, “Ok, what about that place?”
“Uhh… is it open?”
“Hmpf. Well, forget it. If it’s not open, I’m not gonna eat there.”
You tell ‘em, Dad.
So, yeah, trying to pinpoint the quintessence of Dad is like trying to drive a nail through a tomato seed.
As my mom would say, “He’s a very complex person.”
Yes and no.
"Yes" in the sense that every time you think you had reached the limits of his character traits and interests, you’d find out something else. And "no" in the sense that when it came down to it, my dad could be boiled down to the fact that my dad just didn’t have limits period.
You could say that my dad’s done it all, but I can think of one think he’s never done, and that is utter the phrase: “Ok, let’s not go overboard.”
Excess was in his nature. It defined him. I once called him and asked how his day was, and he pauses for a moment, then happily replies, “It was great! I made 8 meatballs. I ate them all.”
That. That may be the essence of my dad. He ate them all. Whether it was meatballs, or life, he never left anything on the plate. He devoured everything. He wanted to meet the new adventure and had no interest in leaving anything untouched.
He loved everything and didn’t believe in just having a lukewarm affair with any interest. Whether it was food, his family, life, school, or his work. Sometimes you could look at it as “going the extra mile.” Other times you could say it was “taking it one step too far.” It went both ways.
Like how he wouldn’t just write my name on my lunch bag like everyone else in middle school. He would draw cartoon sketches of monsters. He didn’t just staple my book reports together. He spiral bound them with a clear plastic cover and thick paper stock sheets.
He sent me mail every day when I was in sleepaway camp, and they were typed missives riddled with SAT words that I needed a dictionary to decipher: “Hey, does anyone in this cabin know what a pleth-OR-a of opportunities means?”
His intellect was unlike any other. He was accepted to college when he was 15, and was one of those math prodigies that just looked at numbers and it made sense.
(Which must have made it maddening for him to live with 4 women who’d sit around and say things like, “I mean, what the heck is an imaginary number anyway? I mean, it’s not like I can submit gibberish to a professor and say Oh it’s cool, it’s an imaginary word.”)
To truly understand the extent of his larger-than-life existence, you must first understand what he had to endure in the last 2 years of his life. He developed a rare, fatal brain tumor that’s untreatable, that literally takes over your entire brain and infects every area.
And yet he was still smarter than all of us, still answered every Jeopardy question, still did our taxes, still cracked jokes, still fought for everything.
He suffered a disease that took away everything that was important to him. But it never took his spirit. If it were me, I would have honestly tossed in the towel after 3 months of this, tops. But my dad never gave up. He never let the disease beat him. He outlasted it, as far as I’m concerned. My dad won, as he always did, because he never let it beat him.
I was thinking the other day of this time maybe 2 months ago when my dad was lying in bed and I was sitting in the arm chair next to him, and he turned to me and said, “Kristen, I need you to do something for me.” So of course I say “What is it?? Anything."
I’m sitting there on the edge of my seat, waiting for the substantive and profound favor, and he says, “I need you to look up the poker schedules at Foxwoods for this weekend.”
He was just That. Amazing. It was just a few months ago my mom called and said, “We’re at Foxwoods. Your father just called, he’s in the poker tournament finals. I just went to this table to bring him a Snickers bar, and he’s hanging out with James Woods.”
Every day with my dad was like MadLibs.
(He came in 8th in a tournament of 500, by the way.)
He never let anything get in his way of his love of life and laughing. Nothing. When he was sick and the hospital attendants would come in and scan his hospital bracelet, he’d say, “Ooh wait I have a coupon for that!” My dad got thrown every insidious blow in existence, and he never lost himself. He was undaunted, and unafraid. Throughout all of it, he was still Dad.
He underwent 2 brain surgeries, each time they warned us he might not be able to speak when he woke. And after the first one? I walked into the recovery room and there he was with a bandage wrapped around his head, and he opened his eyes and said, “Kris, just because I’m here doesn’t mean I can’t take care of you, ok? I’ll always be able to take care of you.”
That’s the first thing he thought of when he woke up from brain surgery. His first thought and first concern was that his children knew he would always be there for him. He lived his life like that, and everything he has ever done or said in the 34 years I was blessed to have him in my life, was a testament to his overwhelming devotion to his family.
I spent this past New Year’s Eve with my parents, and my mom told Dad that my sister's boyfriend was planning on proposing that night. My dad’s response? To hoist himself out of his chair and start dancing. He says, in all seriousness, “Ok, we gotta start practicing our dance moves now. I don’t want you guys embarrassing yourselves at the wedding, so let me teach you a few moves.”
He just was so proud of all of us. He was so proud of being a family. At his memorial service this past weekend, it was a full house, and friends from all walks of life came up to me and said the same thing: “Your father never stopped talking about you and your sisters and your mother. He never stopped bragging about you. Ever.”
Everything we did, in his eyes, was gold. I remember when my youngest sister was on the diving team when she was 8, and she was one of 2 kids in her age group at the diving meet. My dad spent the next month proudly announcing to anyone who would listen, “This one right here? Came in 2nd in the County Championship.”
He came to every. Single. Softball game. Never missed a game. He’d sit in the bleachers and when my crazy softball coach was giving me signs, I’d look over to my dad to see if he’d confirm or reject the sign.
More often than not it was the latter, and while this did not make me popular with my coach, I always followed my dad’s signals. Because he was always right. He never steered me wrong. He just got me. He was my best friend in the world.
I remember a time when I was in the throes of an ungodly horrendous day at work. Not just one of those cranky “work sucks” days. But a crying-outside-by-the-side-of-the-building day.
The phone rings, and it’s my dad, who never really called, mostly because he didn’t know how to use his cell phone, and he says, “Hey Kris! I’m at the Yankees spring training game, and I was just thinking about you and how much I wish you were here.”
To use a line from our shared favorite book:
|Franny & Zooey. Me and my dad's favorite book.|
He just knew when to call. When I’d be watching a Yankee game and it would get to the point where you start thinking in your head how many grand slams it would take for the Yankees to be back in the game, and just as my panic would reach a fever pitch, the phone would ring, and it’d be my dad saying the same thing: “Kris, you’re not watching the game, right? It’s a rerun. I already saw this game, and the Yankees end up coming back in the 8th and winning it, so don’t worry.” And I wouldn’t.
My dad basically mastered life. He just got it.
It was like he had figured it all out and then thought “well, what do I do now?”
And the answer to that was: everything. He did everything. And he loved how great it all was. Once he made his own turkey salad and he makes us both a sandwich and we’re sitting on the porch in Long Beach about to eat lunch and life was good.
And my dad takes a bite of his sandwich and says to no one in particular really, almost talking to the sandwich even, “Wow. I am so good at things.” And he was. He was good at everything. You couldn’t compete with Dad, which was ironically all Dad ever really wanted to do.
He went on vacation to Block Island and manages to find the one dive bar in town, marches in and announces, “I want to play pool, but I only want to play whoever is the best one here.” Dad only dealt with the superlative.
|Just hanging out in the backyard.|
When the Yankees would find themselves in a bases loaded, 2-out, close and late situation, and the announcers would invariably say, “So, who do you want to see up right now?”, my answer would always be the same: My dad. Without question.
A day will never go by where I won’t think, “Oh, I gotta call my dad and tell him about this.” I thought it during the memorial service, how I couldn’t wait to tell him about how many people came.
I will never get past losing him, just as he never got past the death of his own father. In an email he sent me a few years ago, he wrote:
In December of 1980, about three months before you were born, I had a talk with my father. He was sick and wanted to talk to me. Similar to my current condition, he had suffered a heart attack and a mini stroke. Now many years later, I realize that he knew that he would not be with us much longer. In fact, he died a month later in January. He said that family trumps all things. He said that it was only when we have the experience of age that we realize this. It was his wish that absolutely nothing should ever come between Uncle Joe, Uncle Anthony and me. I feel that my father's wish is now my wish for you, Lauren and Amy.
He gave himself to everything and everyone, but the most important thing he gave me, by far, was his golden rule. Family above all. He adored me, my sisters, and my mom with every fiber of his being.
He looked at my mom like the sun rose and set for her, and if he were here right now, he would be saying the same thing he said every time he went out with her: “Your mother was the prettiest woman there.” His love for us was truly endless, and that will never leave me.
My dad is invincible in this way. Nothing will ever take away everything he was and everything he meant to the people whose lives he’s changed. He was loyal, funny... I just idolized him. He was my favorite person in the world.
Everything I am I owe to him. He made me better than I ever could have made myself. So despite the hole in my heart, there’s an even more profound emotion eclipsing my feelings of grief.
And that’s my feeling that I’m lucky.
I’m lucky to have had him in my life. I got to know him, I got to have him as a father, as a role model. No matter what blows the world may deal, I can feel nothing but fortunate for the fact that I got to live in my dad’s magical world.
I would give anything to have him back, to be able to make another one of my fake-excuse calls, to ask him what kind of syrup is needed for a proper egg cream, or how much breadcrumbs to put in my meatballs.
After I confessed this to my mom last week, how so many of my calls to him were thinly veiled excuses just to talk to him, my mom says, “You know what? He used to do the same thing with you.”