An Imperfect Tribute

My dad was an unlikely father. He’d told me once that he’d never really cared if he had a child, but my mother wanted kids and that’s what you did back then. There were many times throughout my childhood that I could feel his ambivalence about this role that he’d stumbled into. But here’s the thing … my dad loved me, and I felt that too.

I am in many ways a chip off the ol’ block (such a dad expression!).

I look just like him – unfortunately. Same short, squat body. Same wide feet, upturned nose and round face. And we both get so much joy out of small things, like a good meal, our favorite TV show or cool facts and trivia.

Years ago, my boss at the time was trying to remember the name of the shaving cream company that used to advertise on the side of barns. I told her I could find out. So I called up my dad and he immediately knew. “Burma-Shave!” he exclaimed. I remember feeling wistful as I walked back to tell her, knowing that one day he and his trivia-stuffed brain wouldn’t be just a phone call away.

Recently, he’d started hosting trivia nights at his senior center. In April, when I last visited, he was obsessed with compiling questions for the next trivia night. I Googled some and rattled them off to him. He knew nothing about current pop culture, but most everything about history, sports and music (pre-1980). One question stumped him, though: “What is the proper term for a group of parrots?” I didn’t know myself. “Pandemonium,” I said. “Pandemonium?!” he exclaimed as his face spread into a wide smile that I mirrored. We loved it. What a great trivia tidbit! For the rest of my trip, he’d suddenly shout out “Pandemonium!” and shake his head with delight. He couldn’t wait to use that at the next trivia night. Unfortunately, he never got a chance.

After a whirlwind week of broken bones, illness and surgery, he succumbed to pneumonia on May 20, just two days shy of his 75th birthday.

A couple days before his death, while he was still fighting to recover, I discovered that a group of cats is called a clowder. I couldn’t wait to tell him that when he was feeling better. I never got a chance.

I usually use this space to tell you about what’s in this month’s issue, but this month I had to tell you what’s in my heart – paying tribute to my dad who felt such joy and pride reading these letters. I’m not sure I hit the mark, though.

There are so many other things I should have told you about my dad: how he loved Frank Sinatra, the Detroit Tigers, colorful clothes, a stiff drink and fancy cigars. I feel like starting over, rewriting this and making it a better reflection of him and what he meant to me, but I’m too tired and sad to take another crack at it. So this tribute will have to be like him: full of heart, honest and beautifully imperfect.


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