Commentary

Gorgeous

Media-buying transparency or whatever can hold off a week. Will you please permit me, on the occasion of Father’s Day, to devote a few words to something personal? To be specific, it’s a bit of an update to my dad, who died young and missed my entire adult life, not to mention a lot of his own.

Samuel M. Garfield was volatile and goofy, opinionated and unlucky. The youngest of seven children of emotionally detached parents, he struggled against the tide of overbearing siblings to establish his own persona and adult independence. Whereupon -- in what should have been the prime of life -- he was laid up with illness after illness, culminating in a ruinous stroke at the age of 47. Then four difficult and often humiliating years of disability. Then he died, leaving a widow and three teenage sons.

I think of him not especially often. When I do, it mainly makes me sad -- for his travails, for the residual guilt of being an unbearable adolescent during his worst years and mostly for the years he missed. He never saw his children become adults. He never saw the grandchildren he would have entertained, spoiled and treasured. He never saw Nixon’s resignation. He never saw the Phillies win a World Series.

This weekend, it happens, he was never far from my thoughts. Because of Father’s Day, of course. And because I turned 60. A cloaked reaper stalks me with a scythe (and, for some reason, little bags of turkey pepperoni.) How, with the genes I was dealt, did I ever get to this place? And what about the life I’ve had that my father did not?

This is what you call “taking stock,” and the timing could scarcely be more propitious.

On Saturday my beautiful, brilliant and hilarious middle daughter -- who, of course, never met her grandfather -- will marry on the West Coast. After giving her away, I will fly East to witness her new life from a distance of 2,669 miles. My beautiful, brilliant and hilarious eldest daughter, son-in-law and adorable twin grandsons live 250 miles away. (The guys I play poker with are mainly idiots; I see them all the time.) This leaves a gaping hole in my heart.

My beautiful, brilliant and hilarious 14-year-old just finished middle school, and therefore is totally pissed off. The lion’s share of her implacable contempt is reserved for bigotry and bullying, but she manages to hold a place in her spleen for her loved ones. Every evening at bedtime, we have the most poignant exchange. “Goodnight, sweetheart,” I say to her. “Close my door,” she replies.

Awwwww.

Elsewhere in the extended family, there is so much tragedy and heartbreak. Addiction. Illness. Financial extremis. I am helpless, helpless to make a difference. I’ve turned out to be a disappointing husband, and I am a disappointed citizen -- angry and ashamed of guns, superstition, selfishness, xenophobia and hatefulness that poison our society. For good measure, my life’s work has devolved into a race to oblivion between me and the industries I cover.

The Phillies are 24 and 47. Everything is so difficult. Dad, I’m so sorry you missed it.  

The weekend has reminded me of the blessings. The recitals. The malapropisms. The milestones. The indelible scenes.

For my birthday, the bride-to-be posted a picture on Facebook from 1988. She was two or three, not even waist-high to me at the bathroom sink. I was using Foamy and a covered disposable razor to shave her nose. She was so serious about it. It is the picture of innocence and aspiration. Last night, after my birthday party, I sat up with the 14-year-old, just shooting the shit till 3 a.m. She was almost rapturous as she shared her thoughts, discovering her own mind even as she grooved on an interlude free of parental judgment. Magnificence.

There was also all that life-affirming other stuff that fell on my watch. Art, the play. Obama, the president. "The Sopranos." The Berlin Wall dismantled. The Internet mantled. EZ Pass. Also, I made a living. I fell in love. I tell jokes really, really well. Your great grandsons are the world’s foremost authorities on trains, and are simultaneously whip-smart and adorably stupid. (I have photographic evidence of them trying to cut water with scissors.) Your youngest granddaughter stands up for the vulnerable. In a few days, her sister walks down the aisle. And, big bonus: goofiness turns out to be congenital.

I’m so sorry you missed getting to 60, Dad. Living is hard. Living is gorgeous.

 

 

 

 

21 comments about "Gorgeous".
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  1. Kurt Ohare from ohare & associates, June 22, 2015 at 9:33 a.m.

    Bob,
    You are quite the wordsmith and I enjoyed every word of it.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, June 22, 2015 at 9:55 a.m.

    Bravo. Your words touched me.

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, June 22, 2015 at 10:02 a.m.

    Nice job, Bob! Thanks!

  4. Anthony Detry from Mediabrands, June 22, 2015 at 2:10 p.m.

    That piece was gorgeous. Thank you.

  5. Matthew Cronin from House of Kaizen, June 22, 2015 at 2:11 p.m.

    Raw, honest and itself, gorgeous. Thanks Bob.

  6. Mark Paul from Mark Paul, June 22, 2015 at 2:24 p.m.

    Well put, and mazel tov on the wedding.

    Never fear: in the land of St. Phineas T. Barnum, you'll never lack for subjects to write about.

  7. David Vawter from Doe-Anderson, June 22, 2015 at 2:32 p.m.

    Awwwww, indeed.  Brilliant.  

  8. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners, June 22, 2015 at 2:46 p.m.

    Father's Day is more of a reflection day for me, too. Your words touch me (and many others) very deeply, and, like all social media today, provide too much information. But, in your capabable typing hands, well worth it. Good to know that someone else on the planet living an outwardly successful 'wonderful life,' thinks it hard, and gorgeous too. Thanks.

  9. Perry Allison from BiddingForGood, June 22, 2015 at 2:49 p.m.

    Bob,
    We have never met but you give me hope.  In the torrent of content that is flying by every day, I almost always slow down to read your pieces and you never disappoint. This piece was so poignant and bittersweet. It was layered with such joy and sadness which feels about right for the times we live in.  Savor the wedding.  These are the moments that mean the most even as we hobble into the second half of our lives.  Gorgeous indeed.    

  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 22, 2015 at 2:52 p.m.

    My father, who came from a disfunctional family and through the depression. He also wasn't the shiniest penny and had no skills coming out of the navy. One of his sisters took him in since he had no place to live. No one expected much from him, especially his lousy brother. But he got married, worked for $40/wk, someone taught him how to cut meat, worked in a supermarket in the very cold back room cutting up sides of beef and pork and between my mother working, they were able to buy a house, a car, have 2 self supporting children (very bumpy ride), both with college degrees. He was 87 ill and with dementia in an assistant living facility for 5 years, then nursing home for 7 months. He would have been horrified if he knew all the money they saved all their lives went to that place. 3 days before he died, he tapped my knee with his expression of it's OK and he was ready to let go. Those 30 seconds stays with me.

  11. Steve Smith from Mediapost, June 22, 2015 at 2:55 p.m.

    Beautiful, Bob. Thanks.

  12. Brent Walker from Soundscapes, June 22, 2015 at 3:11 p.m.

    Thanks so much for this Bob. I lost my mother in much the same way...stroke at 52. Sadly, she lived for 17 more years.


    I, too, just turned 60. 60's a bitch! It's a frightening number, but my friends keep reminding me that 60 is the new 40. 


    I really love your commentary (on everything) as well as your work on On The Media. Brilliant, important journalism. (You even wrote a story about my old business partner, Jeff Hoyt, and me when you were working for AdWeek in Dallas. I knew then that you had a good journalistic eye.)


    Thanks for the beautiful paean to your dad. Sorry he didn't get to see what we get to see.

  13. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, June 22, 2015 at 3:14 p.m.

    The best yet of your always superb column. Thank you.

  14. Boz Boschen from ND&P Advertising, June 22, 2015 at 3:48 p.m.

    Thanks, Bob. I found Father's Day this year hit me a bit hard too. Although not healthy to dwell on for long, I think it's good to know that pepperoni scythe is never far behind.

    I was 17 when I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer. He was 52, and consumed within months. However it happens, losing a parent early changes you in profound ways. Now at 35 I find myself with two toddlers and a third on the way, and marking 17 years until I'm 52. My hope is this keeps me in the right frame of mind for how to be a parent, and how to make the best of my time with them, however fleeting it may be.

  15. Paul Rostkowski from Varick Media Managment, June 22, 2015 at 4:16 p.m.

    Thank you Bob, what a wonderful piece.
    -Dad of two, where is the time going?

  16. Steven Flax from Cardiff Fulfillment Corporation, June 22, 2015 at 4:50 p.m.

    Thank you for the wonderful column. You put cherishing into such indelible words: for your Dad, for your kids, for life that is always too brief and rips us all into jagged pieces. If fathers can put that cherishing into words, as you have done, then life has sanctuaries as well as hells. Thanks again.

  17. Alex Goulder from Gaiam, June 22, 2015 at 5:30 p.m.

    Usually I enjoy being a contrarian, but here I feel the need to pile on some praise. Great column, funny, astute, and full of feeling. Even better than your usual amazing work. 

  18. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, June 22, 2015 at 5:41 p.m.

    Bob - As the man said, 'life is for the living', but without making the effort to reflect and see it all in perspective, the most valuable learning is missing.  This was my first birthday (my 70th) and Father's Day without the woman who made it all worthwhile for me.  As Sheryl Sandberg expressed in her excellent "30 days later" post, I feel like I've lived decades in just a few months.  Without my children, their spouses and beautiful, brilliant grandchildren, there would be nothing left to live for. Life is a messy, brutish, capricious affair, so each generation has do its own work to squeeze whatever love and wisdom they can from this journey. 

  19. Andy Roy from Digital Marketing Strategies, June 22, 2015 at 6:48 p.m.

    Good one, Bob. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Barry Kula from Westfield, June 23, 2015 at 10:30 a.m.

    Nicely done! 
    Thanks Bob.

  21. Jaffer Ali from PulseTV, June 24, 2015 at 5 p.m.

    Wonderful...and thank you Bob for sharing part of your heart and soul. Beautiful piece and dare I say it, one of your best from a long line of great writings. - Jaffer

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