My father’s birthday is coming up soon. He would have been 97. He died suddenly when he was 62. I was 28. Its been thirty-five years and I can tell you in detail what my brother said to me when he called and woke me up during the night. I can tell you what I did afterwards, how I felt walking into my parents home, crying as I held my mother and what it was like sitting quietly in the car he parked a few hours earlier. Every detail that mattered, as clear as if it were yesterday.
Parents are often misunderstood by their children. The transition from child to teen to adult can sometimes be difficult and I think, as parents, we can live several different lives with our children. Parents are expected to always understand, love unconditionally, never make mistakes and be there whenever you’re needed. Even as adults, children oftentimes misunderstand a parents words or intentions. I suppose that just comes with the territory.
I was fortunate growing up. My parents loved each other, set good examples and loved my brother and I as best they knew how, which in retrospect, was pretty dame good. Did I take exception to some decisions they made or get upset with them at times? I’m sure I did. Funny thing is, I can’t remember one. I guess it just wasn’t that important when weighed against everything they gave us.
We didn’t have a lot of material things, but we had family. Lots of family. They lived down the street and around the corner and seeing them was pretty much an everyday thing. My father’s family lived in Brooklyn but they visited at least every other week. When you grow up like that, with family around you, your life matters in ways they haven’t written words for yet.
I grew up believing family meant everything and I still feel that way. Family and faith. Which is why losing my father and then my mother seventeen years later was so difficult. Because no matter how old you are, the child in you believes your parents will always be there. Because they always have. Oh you know they’ll die at some point. We all do. But thinking or saying the words, is very different from living the words. And it doesn’t really hit you until you wake up the next morning and realize your world has changed forever.
After my mother died, I felt like an orphan. I know it sounds strange but I always had parents and then I didn’t. When you grow up, there is a family unit that only the people in that family experience, relate to and remember. No one else was there for all the dinner conversations, the jokes, the laughter, the teasing, the tears. The little things that only you will remember with them. And then it’s gone. A part of your past is no longer there and you’re not going to get it back. Ever.
That’s why it’s important to love the people who are with you today; to not take for granted the words you didn’t say, the hug you forgot to give, the phone call you didn’t have time for or the memories you could have made. Because one day life will change. It’s inevitable. I’d like to think my table will be clear when it does.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you and miss you.