Only When They’re Gone



It’s no secret where I get my love of stories and books.

From my dad.

My earliest memories of him are sitting on his lap while he read “Alice in Wonderland.” He especially loved to recite the poem “Jabberwocky,” inflecting the nonsense words so they just about made sense.

We shared a love of fairy tales. Surprisingly, my engineer father loved the works of Louisa May Alcott, which he’d read in his childhood.

In later years, we’d watch Star Trek and revel in the lure of traveling to distant planets. And debate what lay beyond the stars.

He also instilled in me a love of classical music and supported that interest through piano lessons. When I was in college, he’d take me to see Gilbert and Sullivan, which I enjoyed, and operas, which I did not.

He gave me these loves and taught me many things. To respect honesty. To work hard. And while he was unsuccessful when I was a child, in later life I realize I’ve become more like him and am less the procrastinator I always was.

And now he’s gone.

At 94, he lived alone up to the last six weeks of his life, fiercely independent, another trait I inherited from him. We’ve had our last debate over religion and politics. And I realize he was one of the few people I could debate these issues without it erupting into a nasty fight.

No longer will we be able, like Alice’s “Walrus and the Carpenter”

“…talk of many things, like ships and sails and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings.”

I had not realized how much he had given me. And while our relationship had its complications, in the end I gained more than I lost by having him as a father.

Going through his things, I found old pictures and school records, correspondence from decades ago, his master’s thesis and military records. I learned much about this man I thought I knew.

Only now that he’s gone I know him better than I ever did before.

While his story is over, I think of the stories of the other people in my life. It’s time, I think, to look for how I’ve gained in knowing them. To make an effort to know them better while I still have the chance.

And to think of what I can leave for them.



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