Goodbye, Dad.

It’s been two weeks since we buried my Dad.

He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.

That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone.  He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them.  We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.

They say vertical stripes make you look taller. I don’t think it helped me in this outfit.

My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad.  When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.

Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all.  When I finally started,  I had to force myself to slow down.  Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:

My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.

Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.

He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.

When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.

He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.

When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.

For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know.  I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids.  I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store.  (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)

Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course.   My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me.  We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City.  We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.

It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children.  I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful.   On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.

I’m going to miss him.

Dance Me to the End of Love*

Damn it, 2016, knock it off already.  You’ve already taken Alan Rickman, Prince, Abe Vigoda, George Gaynes, Jerry Doyle, Gene Wilder, and David Bowie.  And now I see in the news that you’ve also taken Leonard Cohen from us?  This will not stand!

Leonard Cohen was beloved by many of my friends. I loved him too.   Leonard has been actively writing and performing music for almost sixty years.  Almost everyone knows his work, even if they don’t realize it- he wrote “Hallelujah,” one of the most covered songs ever sung.  Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and countless others have done  hundreds of versions of this song, but the original is still the best.  Leonard Cohen originally wrote around 80 verses for the song, and different artists sometimes choose different verses, which means that almost every version is just a little bit different.

My first exposure to Leonard Cohen was in 1990, when I was seventeen years old.  A group of us (including Jade Walker and our good friend Chris Pine, who is now deceased) went to see the Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up The Volume.”  During the movie, Christian Slater’s character spun up “Everybody Knows” and “If It Be Your Will.”  I was transfixed, and I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen (and the ridiculous number of covers of his work) ever since.  Those first two songs are still among my favorite songs of all time.

A recent Rolling Stone article mentions that when he finished his “Grand Tour” in New Zealand on December 21st, 2013, he had been touring for five years and played 387 shows. He came out of that tour with serious physical problems.  Leonard Cohen had multiple fractures of the spine, and severe mobility problems.   His final album, “You Want It Darker,” was recorded from a makeshift studio in his house.  His son set up a Neumann microphone on the dining room table, and set the living room up with recording gear, a laptop running Protools, and a set of speakers.    Much of that album was recorded with Leonard in an orthopedic medical chair.  “You Want It Darker” was released on October 21st,  just a few weeks before Leonard left us.

leonard_cohen-rollingstone-nov-17-2016(Editor’s note:  I accidentally acquired a subscription to the Rolling Stone a few months ago.  I’m still not entirely sure how this happened, but every once in a while the magazine is really entertaining.  If you’re interested in reading this fascinating look at the production of Leonard Cohen’s final album, I scanned the page from the November 17, 2016 Rolling Stone.  Here you go.  Click the thumbnail on the right to embiggen.  )

Leonard was 82 when he died, which means he was about 79 at the end of his final tour.  Six months before the Grand Tour ended, I was lucky enough to see him at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany.  I was thrilled to finally be able to see him live, and I had no idea that he was on the last tour of his career.  Even then, in late June of 2013, he was spry and witty and a master of his craft.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can show you what it was like to see him perform Hallelujah live in Mannheim, Germany, about three and a half years ago.

I’m tired of 2016 taking my musical idols from us.  Someone keep an eye on Cyndi Lauper, Martin Gore, Andy Bell, and Vince Clarke, ok?

*If you’re not familiar, “Dance Me to the End of Love” is one of Leonard Cohen’s songs.  There’s a live version on the 2009 Live in London recording you can get from Amazon and iTunes.

What’s your favorite Leonard Cohen song?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?