Day 70. Remembering Dad

Today is my father’s birthday. He’d be 100. It’s hard to imagine. He’d died relatively young, by today’s standards. Two weeks shy of his seventy-fifth birthday. My mother was 65. Young to be a widow.

He was a libra, and definitely had the characteristics of his sign. He was urbane, sociable, elegant, kind, easygoing and extremely generous. He loved beautiful things, and had exquisite taste. And although he wasn’t demonstrably affectionate in public, he did have a romantic streak. He was the least judgmental person I’ve ever known, he had tons of integrity and was honourable to a fault. His word was more binding than any contract.

This is his engagement photo. He was thirty-one years old. People tell me I look like him. I think I do, although I have my mother’s colouring.

I had an incredibly close relationships with both of my parents, but my dad and I had a very special bond. From the first day I moved out on my own, to the day he died, I spoke to him everyday. Without fail. Even when I moved to Toronto, from Montreal. He and my mother would visit me in Toronto very often, but he used to come quite frequently on business; and we always saw each other when he was in town. We’d have dinner, or lunch, whatever he had time for.

And, because he was also so generous, he’d always tell me to invite friends or even colleagues to join

us. Once, we both happened to be in New York, on business, at the same time. It was a given that we’d have dinner together. I was there with a group of furriers I was working with. He invited all of them to come along.

That was my father.

When I was very little, maybe three or four, Saturdays were our special day together. Just the two of us. We had a standing date. We’d get up early and go out for breakfast. He often went to his office on Saturday mornings to catch up on paperwork. There was a coffee shop nearby and that’s where we’d usually go.

We’d sit at the counter, which was my favourite. He’d order toast, orange juice and hot chocolate for me, and toast, orange juice and coffee for himself. Frankly, I would have preferred the coffee. I always complained that the hot chocolate was too sweet, and eventually we found a compromise that worked for both of us. I’d get a cup of milk, into which he’d put a spoonful or two of coffee. That worked for me. Sort of.

Then we’d head over to his office, where he’d give me a couple of ‘assignments’ to keep me busy, while he did what he had to do. That would take a couple of hours, after which he’d take me shopping. Something for me, a surprise for my mom, whatever food shopping he decided to save my mother the trouble of doing. Sometimes we’d go and visit his mother, or my other grandmother, and sometimes we’d just go home. Or meet my mom somewhere. I cherished those Saturdays, looked forward to them all week. And we continued the tradition, probably until I reached my teens.

As I got older, we did other things together. We decorated my apartments, went to auctions, met for lunch, collaborated on designs for jewelry he had made for my mother, and discussed everything. He was always my best source of advice. Even as an adult I loved travelling with my parents, and we did it fairly often. We always had a fabulous time, with lots of laughs and interesting experiences. Wherever we were, even at home in Montreal, we always went to the theatre, to nightclubs, amazing restaurants. We shared many, many, many good times and I have such wonderful memories. I am very fortunate, I know.

Ask anyone who knew him, and they’d tell you he was like the pied piper. He attracted people wherever he went. Everyone loved him. Friends, family, employees, my friends. Even after I’d moved out of town, my friends used to go and visit my parents, and have dinner with them. And when he died, so many people came to his funeral, they had to stand outside. There were close to a thousand people there.

His death taught me a lesson I will never forget. Not to my dying day. My parents had, among other things, a very strong work ethic. They brought me up to give everything I did, my all. Not to be lazy. Not to look for shortcuts. Not to look for the easy way out. To be loyal to the companies I worked for; and to make my job a top priority.

So here it was. September of 1987. Although we were not a religious family, both my parents enjoyed the Jewish HIgh Holidays because they were a chance for our entire family to be together. I had booked the time off well in advance. About two days before I was due to leave, an account director at the ad agency where I worked, asked me if I would cancel my holidays to work on a new job. The client liked my work and was putting pressure on him.

At first I resisted. I knew my parents, and extended family, were looking forward to seeing me; and I was excited to see them. But he was relentless. He asked me over, and over. And finally I relented. First I called my mother, then my dad. I knew they were disappointed, but they assured me that I was doing the right thing. This was who they’d brought me up to be, after all.

Because my father’s birthday was only two weeks away, I told them I’d re-schedule and come for that. And stay longer. Instead of just a weekend, I’d stay a week.

It never came to pass.

That Sunday my father had a terrible pain in his leg, which turned out to be a blood clot. He was hospitalized. My parents didn’t want me to worry, so they didn’t tell me. I remember I had a very unsettled feeling that whole day. So much so, I kept calling their house, but there was never any answer. I assumed they were out at my grandmother’s, or one of my aunt’s for dinner. Not so.

The next day, Monday, at around five, they called me at the office, to let me know what was going on. I wanted to get on a plane, but my father insisted that I wait until they had the results of tests. I can still hear his voice, telling me not to worry, that he was okay, and that I should wait. Promising to call as soon as they knew what was going on. I told him (and my mother) that I loved them, and we agreed to talk again, the next day.

My father was dead fifteen minutes later.

I never saw him alive again. I was there for his birthday, but he wasn’t. And I learned a very tough lesson: Nothing comes before your family. Nothing. As honourable as my intentions were, I’d made the wrong choice. Somebody else could have worked on the project. Or it could have waited a day or two. My father, as it turned out, could not.

He is with me, in my heart and in my memories, every minute of every day. But when I feel his presence the most, is every time I put the important people in my life first, whether they’re members of my family, my close friends, or even those I help through volunteering. And thanks to him, and thanks to the lessons he taught me in both life and death, it’s very often.

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