Crumpled bits of paper,
Filled with imperfect thought
I'm afraid that's all we've got...
It was thirty-four years ago on this very morning that either Kara or Jill entered my bedroom on Wertsville Road in Neshanic Station, ostensibly for the purpose of informing me that our father was dead. I cannot recall which of my sisters wore the garb of messenger. I do, however, distinctly remember telling her, "I know." While I had not yet left my room that morning and I had not yet laid eyes upon him on my parents' bed, I knew he was gone.
I had known it in fact since the previous evening. Dad had spent the day in Pennsylvania, opening up the Harvey's Lake house in anticipation for the upcoming Water Ski trip, which was less than two weeks away. At age fourteen, I was not anywhere near the top of my father's favorite person list. To be fair, at age fifty-seven his name was nowhere to be found on mine either. In hindsight, I suppose it was our utter lack of a relationship that had compelled him to make the round-trip to Harvey's Lake that Saturday a solo trek. He no more wanted my company than I wanted his.
Were I one prone to being awash in sentimentality, right here is where I would drop the "Perhaps if we'd known how little time we had left together..." I am not. Therefore I shall not. I subscribe to the Pete Hamill point of view on the subject, "Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie." I make no apology for it. I am my father's son. For that, I make no apology either.
In the almost three-and-one-half decades that have passed since he died, I have developed a far better understanding of WPK, Sr. than I ever possessed during the almost one-and-one-half decades that our time on this planet overlapped. He was an exceptionally talented teacher. Of academic subjects, of course, but of life lessons as well. That is why, I reckon, so many of his former students, men and women who are now no younger than forty-five and some of whom are substantially older than that still speak of him and what each learned from him with fondness. One who makes an indelible impact on our life remains alive in our memory long after they pass from our day-to-day.
On this very date thirty-four years ago, which coincidentally was also a Sunday, I knew he was gone because when I had last looked squarely at Dad the night before, his eyes betrayed his fate. I made a point of doing something that I never did, which was to tell him that I loved him and to give him a hug and a good night kiss on his forehead. He hugged me too. He then headed off down the hallway, into his bedroom and into the forever then and there waiting for him.
Being the excellent teacher that he was, he passed on not only that which should be done but also that which should not be done. I have tried - as I am confident all of my siblings have also - to hold fast to the former and to avoid the latter. I am my father's son. My efforts in that regard have been less than successful. Far more often than I care to admit, my efforts in that regard have been awful.
The great Oscar Wilde observed that, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past." Nor can a man live long enough to outlive his past. Nor should he, I would hope. We arrive at any particular point in our history by having taken certain, specific steps to get there. Our past - to a degree - shapes our present. Our present, in turn, shapes our future.
I am my father's son. A fact for which I make no apology.