I never really thought of him as my father.
He was always my DAD.
And he was an incredible one. One of the truly extraordinary dads.
He was the kind of dad who, when I was struggling in the city's little league (I cried, at the plate, every time I struck out... and I struck out EVERY time), my dad decided to help organize a local league just so that HE could be my coach and help me enjoy the game of baseball.
A lot of my friends still call him "Coach" when they see him.
My mother got pregnant with me when she and my dad were still kids, barely out of high school. She came from a conservative, Christian family from the midwest. He was a Jew from New Jersey. They were CLUELESS. To demonstrate just how clueless, after my mother got pregnant, she was surprised to find out how a baby got out of a woman's body... when my father told her that I'd be exiting from her vagina, she was genuinely surprised... "Out of WHERE!?!?" The plan HAD been that they were both going off to college. I put the kibosh on that. And the fact that they stayed together for nearly 50 years after that inauspicious start is a testament to how amazing and loving and kind both my mom and my dad are.
Quickly, this is one of my absolute favorite stories about that time, that so perfectly sums up the kind of person my dad was. So my mom's pregnant. They decide to get married (or, perhaps, my mom's parents decided that they were going to get married). My dad needed to call his parents to tell them the "good" news. My grandfather picks up the phone, and my dad blurts out: "I got Pat pregnant and we're getting married." Pissed off, my grandfather proceeds to HANG UP ON HIM IMMEDIATELY. But my dad, not wanting my mom to know that there was a problem, stayed on the line, PRETENDING to continue the conversation, "Thanks, Pops...I'll let her know how happy you are... Sure, I love you, too." Just so my mom wouldn't be hurt.
He was that kind of guy.
My dad gave me the best answer to the usually boring question, "What does your father do?" I'd do my best to shrug casually when I'd respond: "P.I." Yeah, for the last 30 plus years, my dad was a private investigator and process server. But he did many other cool jobs earlier in his life, like making stained glass (one of his lamps hung over a pool table at Graceland).
My dad loved art (we have at least 100 sculptures and original paintings in our home, including a couple of my own photographs above my mom and dad's bed).
He was the kind of dad who ALWAYS supported his family. When I said I wanted to act, and later, when I said I wanted to write and direct movies, he and my mom were ENDLESSLY supportive. Not only that, they paid for me to have a theater degree, which is basically throwing money away. When my brother decided to start a restaurant in Colorado, again the checkbook came out. In a race to blow through the my parents' savings, my brother and I are in a dead heat.
He was the kind of dad who, when he dressed up for Halloween, would REALLY dress up for Halloween. He was the kind of dad who would randomly decide to build a car so he could drive it in a demolition derby. He was the kind of dad who, despite having NO carpenter skills whatsoever, would decide to build a GIANT porch onto our house by himself (my mom, a few friends, and plenty of beers were always on hand).
He was the kind of person who was always on the right side of history... after the events in Selma in 1965, his mother, my grandmother, took a bus from New York to Alabama to join the March on Montgomery for equal voting rights, and that's one of the things that framed my dad's look on life. As a young man, when abortion was illegal in many states, my dad started an organization to help match up women in need with out-of-state doctors. After my brother and I left for college, my mom and dad decided to take on foreign exchange students, opening their home to two kids from Japan for the summer. Aside from art, on the walls of my home hang albums by Charlie Parker & Woody Guthrie, speeches and quotes from MLK and other Civil Rights leaders, and one of my favorites: a Ben Shahn poster, which has hung in our house for as long as I remember, reads: "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."
My dad loved to travel and took frequent trips across the world with his amazing friends. Africa. Israel. Cuba. Italy. He loved animals. He loved music. He REALLY loved to cook. He loved his grandchildren.
Dad taught me how to fish. He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me to make a jump shot. He taught me how to be kind. But one of the most important gifts he gave me was a sense of humor. My dad was so funny. He didn't tell jokes... no, he was just FUNNY. Whatever sense of humor I have was honed and developed by years of living with my dad.
I'm going full screen on these because they really make me happy...
I know the first thing that most people want to know is "what happened?... he was only 69 years old... how did he die?" And the truth is that I'm still processing what happened. The simple answer is that "the end" started several months ago. There is a very rare neurological disorder called Transverse Myelitis that can be triggered by the flu shot. And that's what happened. A few days after he got his flu shot this year, he started having trouble walking. The doctors didn't diagnosis it in time (which limits the recovery chances). And a few weeks later, he was paralyzed from the waist down. He fought it for a few months, but when he was told that it would never get better, and he was in great physical and emotional pain, it all just became too much to bear.
But I want to end on the positive. On the incredible memories I have of my father. And the legacy of love that he has left in my heart.
This was our family at the start...
And this is how I remember my Mom and Dad best, most recently on a family trip to Hawaii.
One of things I loved about my dad the most was how affectionate he was. From the time I was baby, all the way up to the last time I saw him, we kissed hello and goodbye. It didn't matter that he was a grandpa and I was a "dad" now myself, there was always a spoken "I love you" at the end of every visit, every phone call, every time. And a kiss.
I am really going to miss my dad.