Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Remembering Dad (with a book in his hands)

I miss my father terribly.  He passed away three years ago, a few days before his 83rd birthday, and I was fortunate enough to get there to see him one last time.  My father gave me many gifts, but probably the most important gift he gave me was his own life; the way he lived his life was an example and an indelible inheritance.

Dad believed in work and family.  The values that he lived by seem to be nearly extinct:  hard work, loyalty, integrity,  thrift.  He was an intensely private man, quiet and reserved, and he didn't speak often, but anything he did say was worth listening to.  He worked from the time he was twelve or thirteen years old, and nothing made him prouder than working hard and working well.  One of his first jobs was sweeping the floors at the Quincy Patriot Ledger, and he talked as seriously of that job as of any other job he held.  It made no difference to Dad whether he was sweeping floors or managing a whole district of retail stores:  the job ought to be done as well as humanly possible.

When he was seventeen my father enlisted in the Navy.  World War II was being fought, and he had already been accepted to Harvard; sacrifice is another value that seems to be dying out.  At first he was sent to officer training, but Dad hated it--much later in life he would say "they tried to brainwash me."  I still don't know exactly what that means, but he became an ordinary sailor and seems to have loved it.  Like many men of his generation, Dad never discussed the war.  But I did find some old photographs of him looking young and handsome in his denim trousers and pea-jacket, his sailor hat at a jaunty angle.  The photographs of Dad on board the ship show a smiling, relaxed young man.  He was on a destroyer in the South Pacific, and worked in the boiler room--an unglamorous and dirty job.

After he left the Navy Dad attended Harvard on the GI Bill.  He worked his way through college, majoring in economics.  He delivered dry-cleaning and opened up a cigar and newspaper stand in the college cafeteria, a business he passed on to his cousin.  After college he went to work for a major retail chain, and continued to work for the same company for the rest of his career--something unimaginable today.  There was loyalty and trust in the employer/employee relationship back then.

Dad didn't marry until he was well into his thirties.  I have reason to believe that he had many girlfriends, but after his marriage  my father was devoted to my mother for the rest of his life.  They were married for fifty years; there were definitely bumpy years, but couples of Dad's generation stayed married.  What I saw between my parents is another gift:  the progress of love.  The tenderness my parents showed toward each other was earned over a lifetime; they had to forge ahead through years of other kinds of emotions to get there.  Love in the winter of life has its own beauty.

For many years my father traveled, and while I was growing up I honestly didn't spend much time with my father.  I do remember that Dad was a reader; like Mom he always had a book going.  Newspapers, magazines and books filled our house, and for some reason we always seemed to have either a dictionary or an encyclopedia volume at the dinner table--presumably to settle some point of contention.

The books Dad enjoyed were thrillers, books about history and politics, mysteries, and books about business.  In case you were wondering who reads all those management books, it is people like my Dad.  Even after he retired he was still reading business case studies and books about economics.  Later in life Dad was on dialysis, which meant being on a machine for several hours every other day.  He always took a book with him, and he never, never complained about the discomfort and boredom he endured.

In addition to kidney disease and diabetes, Dad successfully battled cancer.  In the hospital his sweet nature made him a favorite with the nurses.  He would crack jokes on his way into surgery, and got to know every nurse or technician who cared for him.  Dad was the kind of person who treated waitresses, salespeople, janitors, mayors and professional golfers (he met a few) with exactly the same amount of courtesy and respect.  He was remarkably adept at drawing people out in conversation.  For instance, when he was recovering from cancer surgery (on his tongue) and could not speak, his used a white board and marker to ask his nurse all about her life. By the end of the first day he knew where she was from, that she was engaged to be married, and who knows what else--he was a good listener!

In his final illness Dad was hospitalized in the intensive care unit.  He had a book next to him, something by Warren Buffet.  I know he didn't have the strength or the energy to hold a book and read, but somehow I think Dad found it comforting to have a book at his side.  As his strength and health diminished, reading became more and more of a solace, a comfort, a consolation.  And as I sat in the hospital room next to him I read as he slept; I remember what I was reading too--it was Jane Austen's Persuasion.

To all the fathers out there, Happy Father's Day.  I hope you leave as many gifts to your children as my father left to me, and I hope they will grow up to remember seeing you with a book in your hands.

21 comments:

Kals said...

This is such an emotional post, so beautifully written. My Dad taught me to love books and even today has the knack of recommending books I invariably fall in love with.

Thank you for this lovely post! * Hugs *

tea lady said...

What a lovely post to read on fathers' day. A love of reading is the best gift that a parent can give their child.

Kate said...

What a beautiful post! The love of reading is truly a gift you will have forever. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Julie said...

What a wonderful post. It sounds like you loved your father very much. I used to work in Quincy too!

bibliophiliac said...

@Kals-I could have said so much more!
@Tea Lady-Thanks for you comment. I really just wanted to honor my Dad.

Brenna said...

What a great post for father's day. I lost my father a few years ago as well and today is always hard. But it's good to remember and honor them... just as you have here :)

Diane said...

A wonderful tribute to your dad.

Julie P said...

What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. Beautiful, moving post...

teadevotee said...

What a beautiful, sincere post. Thank you for sharing your memories.

PK Reeves said...

I'm sure your dad is still looking down on you from above.

Everytime you hear a whisper in the wind, it's probably him telling you "I'm here for you.".

Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory of your father.

PK Reeves
Aisle B

BookQuoter said...

What a perfect posting for Father's day. Thanks for sharing his memory.

IntrovertedJen said...

What a beautiful, heartfelt post about your father.

Grad said...

I've been away from the blog world for a few weeks and chose today to catch up. This beaufitul post reinforces my fear that I am missing much when I can't check in with my favorite bloggers. What a lovely tribute to your father. What an amazing man he must have been.

Ordinary Reader said...

What a wonderful testimonial to your Dad. I don't think the world realizes how much difference a good father makes. More great Dads would make this world a better place.

Kate Evangelista said...

YA Book Giveaway at: http://kateevangelistarandr.blogspot.com/

Priya Parmar said...

that is utterly beautiful. thank you.

bibliophiliac said...

Thanks so much for all the positive and encouraging comments on this piece. Sharing some memories of my Dad on Father's Day was a privilege.

Kate said...

Hi! Just wanted to let you know that this was part of my Friday Five at Kate's Library!

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

My daddy just died today-- no warning-- he was in seemingly good health. Such a shock and I'm a an emotional mess. My parents spent most of the this week at my house and just went home to Tx yesterday. I'm so happy we had a wonderful visit but what a difficult thing-- no one is ever prepared but I expected to have another 20 yrs before dealing with this. Even though, I'm in tears-- reading your lovely tribute to your dad makes me feel better.

bibliophiliac said...

Oh, Lesa, I'm so sorry for the loss of your father. It hits very hard and takes a long time for the pain to diminish. I'm sure you have many wonderful memories of your father that will help sustain you. My thoughts are with you. All the best, Lisa

Vikk @ Down the Writer's Path said...

My dad was a huge influence on my reading. He worked in the space program from Mercury 7 through the space station and the house always had mountains of sci fi books. My mom loved them, too. So I developed a huge interest in science fiction.

He also subscribed to the Heritage Press books and every month we had a new slip-covered hardback of a classic show up. I spent many hours in the living room reading those books.

My dad died in 2008 at 90 and I understand that deep sense of loss. Thank you for sharing your memories.