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.

16 thoughts on “My father’s day

  1. KateLisa

    My dear Siobhan, this is so beautiful!

    I remember your amazing Dad strutting around in his sarongs. He was always so spectacular to me & even more so when you told me the story of how his whole head of hair turned prematurely white at a young age…..the war.

    Some of my best and most memorable experiences in Kenya, were made on the various trips you’re wonderful family brought me along on. I experienced my homeland in such a raw exciting way because of your very cool, fun loving, adventurous parents. Despite my love of the beaches of Mombasa, our Safari to Loita where the Maasai live as they have since ancient times, was the most poignant….I loved it. I’m forever grateful for our friendship and for the opportunity to spend time with you, your beautiful Mom & spectacular Dad…may he rest in peace.

    1. Thanks so much, Kate. Your comment got me thinking about how much I also got out of our friendship. And I think that is what the most memorable friendships are — opportunities to learn and grow together. Thank you, then, for sharing those years with me, and all those good laughs!

  2. nina schnabel

    that is wonderful siobhan, may he rest in peace. have a nice stay in the city of cities!

  3. Honey, what a wonderful piece of writing. It is hard to lose a parent. I hope you are going to have a lovely time in NY and glad the kids were good on the trip.. c

  4. Such a loving tribute to your father. I hope your boys’ tummy troubles are already a thing of the past and that you all enjoy the rest of your visit.

  5. What a lovely tribute to your father. I lost my father about the same time and miss his loving ways. I do hope you enjoy your time in New York.

  6. Bill Linet and Elaine Louie

    Siobhan,
    That was so beautifully written and so touching. You certainly have your father’s gift for writing! Love
    Elaine and Bill

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