My father’s day

Me and my parents back in the day — Brooklyn Heights, circa 1980. I love this photo because we look like complete strangers standing at a bus stop. What could possibly be the connection between these three random dots? That, and my mom looks like a teenager although she is older in this photo than I am now.

We arrived in NYC without incident, in the end, and now all we have to deal with is the disorientation of jet lag and the tummy turmoil that the boys are suffering in the aftermath of the trip (and the less said about that the better for you, dear reader). I guess I always knew they would behave, but I try not to expect miracles from them. That way I am always grateful when they pull through with one.
While I was laying in bed on Friday morning (it seems impossible to me that this was just yesterday), staring into the dark and wondering how the trip would go, I was reminded of all the times that I have initiated journeys from my parents’ old house in Istanbul. I recalled one time in particular that I woke up on the morning of a trip to Tbilisi with a cold knot of dread in my tummy. I listened carefully to the house and heard the sound I had been hoping for — the steady, rhythmic creak of my father’s maple rocking chair coming from the top floor. I went up the spiral staircase and sat on the couch and we talked, and I felt the anxiety ease away. (My bus was stopped by highway robbers on the way to Tbilisi on that trip, but that is a story for another day.)

My father had a wonderful gift for dispelling fear, putting things into perspective, listening when that was what was needed, or dispensing calming hugs. I very often turned to my mother when I was upset, but if I were in a real state, she would always send me to my dad, and it was always the right thing to do. I even remember crying in his arms because I was waiting for a boyfriend to write me and my father hushed me, saying, “Journalists don’t write letters, love.” What was it about my irascible father that made me feel so grounded and secure?

He looks like a slob in the family photo above, but he was usually quite into his clothes. He loved to wear sarongs, a habit he picked up during his days in Indonesia back in the 50s,  and he always delighted when he found himself in a locale where he could wander around at will in one. Our family vacations in Mombasa always involved standing at wooden counters in dimly lit shops as a salesman unfurled colorful lengths of cotton pulled from tights stacks that lined the walls. Later, when my parents traveled to Myanmar, they brought back beautiful silk sarongs, and my father, ever the clothes horse, delighted in wearing them when he had guests.

In the final weeks of his life, my father’s hospice nurse, Dan, showed me how to steady him in his trips from the bed to the living room or the bathroom by pulling his sarong tightly around him and holding it firmly at the small of his back. I held the cloth, tethering him to me, and we marched slowly from place to place. Yet even when he was helpless as a child, he remained to me a giant of a man.

He died four years ago today, here in New York City.