Tidal Wave

Remembering My Father


I don’t remember much of my father’s funeral — when I think back on the day, the minutes seem to somehow unfurl into themselves, undulating in a strange blurred sea of formal black clothing and January white snow. There are moments, though — relatives lining the thin walls of the parlor room and their hushed exchanges fading into a muffled oblivion in my periphery as I peered into his open casket and stared vacantly at the artificial crease sculpted into his foreign looking mouth; I can remember noticing the way my feet seemed to move where they were supposed to on their own, robotically escorting me from the leather seat of the car to the smooth, glossy wood of the front church pew where I sobbed through mass and refused to take off his grey feathered cowboy hat — the one he picked up at a flea market back in LA  that I told him made him look like a serial killer (to which he replied without missing a beat, “it gets the hose.”) I think I wore that hat every day for a year straight after his funeral.

There was a man who introduced himself to me as an old classmate of his from the fourth grade. They hadn’t kept in touch since elementary school — I don’t even think they were good friends — but he said he recognized my father’s name in the paper and felt compelled to pay his respects. “I always remembered your father,” he said —  this stranger with an actual tear in his eye —  “there was just something special about him.”

In a way, that man’s attendance epitomized the kind of person my father was; this equal parts charismatic and enigmatic, larger-than-life being who possessed this intangibly effortless ability to impact the lives of the people around him — even with just some witty joke he told in passing at recess one day that made you laugh so hard you still remember half a century later.

My father decided at an early age that he would never be “just another cog in the wheel.” He made his own rules, marched to his own beat, he dreamed and he lived unapologetically according to his dreams. He was an intellect, a photographer, an artist, an historian, a philosopher, a teacher, he studied music, spirituality, psychology, biology, physics, politics, economics, sports — and he could hold his own in a conversation with an expert in any.

There was this part of him that loved to look sharp in expensive Italian suits and channel The Godfather (he reveled in this particularly in the company of boyfriends of mine that he wasn’t exactly fond of), and another part of him that was basically The Dude. He was my teacher when I vehemently believed calculus would be the death of me. He was my field hockey coach when I was (fleetingly) athletically inclined, and my acting coach when I decided I preferred the stage over astroturf. When I struggled with depression in high school, and he gave me a guitar instead of a shrink and a bottle of pills; “Don’t ever go numb,” he said, “just turn you pain into something beautiful.” He was my advocate, my protector. I never quite mastered the guitar, but I wrote songs and poetry that he put to music, and we would sit outside in the summer sometimes and sing together while the fireflies glowed in the hazy, velvet dusk.  He was my hero.

Even when we did fight — and we did often, and often fiercely — I have come to realize as I have gotten older that most of the time our battles boiled down to our simpatico. I don’t fancy myself as a brilliant visionary in the way that I think of him, but I am purely my father’s daughter in the sense that, like him, I like to do things on my own terms and in my own way, which wasn’t always aligned with his terms, or his way (like moving across the country at 18, for example) and like him I am tenaciously stubborn. So we would, suffice it to say, “butt heads”. But I suspect that even when I infuriated him, deep down there was a part of him that grinned at my little rebellions — he did the same thing in his early twenties, after all.

Appointed the task of writing his eulogy, I can remember desperately raking through my vocabulary for some trace of language that could adequately frame even just the smallest fraction of the utterly, impossibly, immeasurable magnitude of debris my heart was left in — the hauntingly subverted void behind my ribs where the sound of his voice just echoed, ghosted, endlessly, because suddenly nothing seemed to absorb the sound. I decided to start with his own words; “You can't escape your destiny — whatever is going to be will be and you have to face it head on.”

He and I had had many existential conversations together, and I have found that it has been his words, his wisdom, and his lessons that he made his ultimate goal in this life to instill in me while he could, that I still continue to follow like stars to navigate my way through his loss.

I remember that I had an awful sinking feeling in the core of my soul for weeks before his heart failed him, and I couldn't understand why or what it meant. But every time I looked into his eyes I felt a strange nostalgia - as if something in him was receding, and yet rising, because whatever it was cast this ambiguous shadow that kept swelling as it ascended, like a backward cascade of some dividing force, until that phone call brought it crashing down on me with the weight of the entire ocean.

I had found a recording of a discussion we had about a reoccurring dream we shared of a tidal wave, and I had asked if he thought it might be prophetic and if it scared him. He never exactly answered me, but deftly steered the conversation in a different direction, comparing it to the (then) impending December 21,  2012 apocalypse and arguing that there was a flip side to all the anticipated devastation — that you could instead interpret it as an enlightenment, a cleansing, a rebirth, a new life. In fact he insisted on this perspective in one of our last conversations, when the twenty first came and went and the world had not exploded (as he promised it wouldn't). I try to trust and embrace his analogy every day of my life now, and the conviction in the principle that it was built on — that there is always a positive to counteract a negative, the only difference is which side you chose to recognize and act on; Chaos is nothing more than an opportunity to search for unity and establish harmony, and to quote him again, “we have no boundaries or shackles in life other than those we create for ourselves”.

He was profound. He is profound. So in a way, I understand that this profound tragedy had to be his destiny. He told me once that he wanted to change the world... I don't know if one person can do that, but I know that there is not one person who's world he was a part of who had not been changed and impacted by him in some profound way. And even if he never found the material wealth that I don't believe he ever even wanted in the first place,  his words and his wisdom and his lessons, his unfathomably unmatched intelligence and brilliantly insightful thinking, his infinite creativity, his limitless generosity, his unashamed and unyielding sense of humor,  his inspiring dreams and his unconditional love made him the richest man I will ever know. And even if his body has expired for this particular journey, I believe this only means that he has accomplished what he was meant to do this time around, and I know his soul is still with me. Just as it has been for all eternity and just as it will be for all eternity.

Mindful Minutes