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.
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.