Dad and George Carlin, separated by a few years, grew up in the same neighborhood at the edge of Harlem and Morningside Heights in Manahttan. Their views on life (and living) seemed to jive, as far as I could tell. "I thrive on chaos," was Dad's mantra. Boy, did he ever.
Dad was Babe Ruth. He looked like him, ate like him, acted like him (sometimes), could hit a baseball pretty far (he switch hit like Mickey Mantle) and lived like a man who knew that his Stutz Bearcat could crash at any time. The Babe died young, but cast a gargantuan shadow over his world. Dad broke down this year and I'm still exploring the edge of my universe, looking for the point in space where Dad's shadow ends. I won't find it.
An ancient scholar arriving at Alexandria days after the Great Library was destroyed by fire must have felt the same loss that I feel now. All that knowledge and history...poof. Instead of Euripides, Dad's collection housed "golden age" stories of the family's Harlem department store, images of great old NYC sports stars and set shots, political and societal musings, his horribly uncool taste in music, anecdotes about the old school characters he came across in the outskirts of the Garment Industry that he inhabited and never left and the NYC School System where he had been employed his entire adult life. Our conversations used to linger over his list of epicurean delights - the pizzas, desserts, family meals and restaurants that fueled his decline. His voice sounded like my voice in tone and resonance but it was attached to a very different receiver.
His voice can still be heard. Expressions of pain, a request for water - are articulated well enough to temporarily hide reality. I can show him the latest smartphone pictures of my daughter and he seems moved. Is it the photo or the mention of his granddaughter's name? I don't know the true state of his vision. Lost is that uncontrollable laughter. The subjects, usually ribald and profane. The stories, beyond outrageous.
The loss of my grandparents and the end of my parents' marriage were cataclysmic events for me. We were a small family then and now. Dad was the constant. His decline was expected and planned for. I am an Elder Law Attorney, after all. But this feels different. The daily phone calls full of action and outrage have stopped.
I will visit him soon and talk his ear off until he drifts off to sleep or tunes me out. I will tell him that the NBA season will begin soon and that Baseball's Winter Meetings did not bear fruit for the Yankees. I will talk about work and plans for the weekend. He will hear my voice and my stories. Maybe he will remember that my voice is his.
In Loving Memory of My Father, Jeffrey Feller 1944-2012