Monday, May 19, 2008

Remembering Dad

Well, I guess this is as good a time as any to put up this post. I meant to post it earlier, but I couldn't find the words. What's more, I still can't, so I'll just say what happened: My Dad died a couple weeks ago. He was older, but it was unexpected for me. So I've been down in the FL for the past week for the memorial, etc. This post is to remember Dad. And since we've been going through old photo albums over the past few days, we might as well remember, mostly, through pictures. The one on the left, for example, was two Christmases ago. Dad was carving the turkey, as he always did. And, as always, it was "the best turkey ever." [Insert whistle sound effect here.]

So who was my Dad? Well, that's a hard question to answer, and impossible to convey to anyone who didn't know him like we did. He was complicated, private, occasionally moody, stubborn and difficult and absolutely a product of his upbringing. He wasn't the best at emotional displays, and he was, up until a few years ago, pretty hard on us kids. He seemed, to me, to have depressive episodes, but he never spoke about them. He had an interior life that he kept absolutely private--toward the end of the week, for example, we found some old journal entries he'd written and tucked away in a closet. They were only partly illuminating--mostly a lot of rambling and conjecture, like pretty much anyone's journal entries; but they did show that he had concerns we never knew about. I don't find that particularly out of the ordinary.

People ask if I was close to Dad, and when they do, I think 'he wasn't close to anybody.' In fact, as a family, I would say that we're not as tightly knit as other families are. For example, we don't call every week or anything like that. From my point of view, that doesn't mean that we don't love each other--it means that it's understood that we do. But back to being close to Dad--we had a strained relationship for a long time, the distance arising from a number of factors that I needn't get into here. But that distance faded over the past few years as he got older and mellowed, and as we got out of the house and matured. And I guess as I came to the realization that your parents are just people like anyone else; they do the best they can; they love you, and mostly they don't show it in the idealized ways that fictional TV parents do. No one's perfect, and you can't blame people for that.

Anyway, one thing that I can say for my father is that, while he wasn't always good at communicating it, he was devoted to his family. He loved all of us and wanted us to do well. I think he wanted something for us that he wasn't able to achieve for himself (even though he achieved a good bit). It's incalculable what exactly that was, but in the end I don't think it's relevant here. The point is that he did love us, and I think he grew to be proud of us. And we loved him. There were good times; there were bad times. There were misunderstandings and there were cultural divides which were difficult, if not impossible, to bridge. But through it all, we loved him. Actually, I can only speak for myself here, because I only know my experience: He was my father, and I love him. And I feel like I grew to understand him better as the years went on. I think it's a shame that he passed only a few years after we'd all started to get along best. I'll miss him.

OK, so let's look at some old pictures.

This was from his high school yearbook, if I'm not mistaken. He was on the basketball team--that was very important to him. I think he hoped that my brother (who is very tall) would become a basketball player.

Here's a 70s-looking photo. Not sure where it was taken.

I like this picture here. It's him with us kids, and a glass of scotch. Funny. :P

Obviously this one was from a birthday celebration for one of us. I like the look on Dad's face there. I'm probably reading into it, but it strikes me as a look of wonder, wonder at one's own children. For me it seems to show that he had a great deal of love for all of us.

This is Dad in the nursery. Obviously it's a much more recent picture than the others, so this is more the Dad I remember from when I was younger. Here he looks genuinely happy. I think working in the nursery did make him happy, and proud of what he and Mom accomplished there.

This is Dad with me at my college graduation. He was genuinely proud. (And damn, I was thin!) I wish I hadn't taken off my cap and gown as quickly as I did--we didn't get any pictures with me in them, and I didn't realize how important that could be.

And this is the picture we used as the centerpiece at the funeral. I believe it was taken last Christmas. Dad had long since mellowed by the time this was taken (I think after we kids moved out and got relatively settled, Dad worried less and was a bit more peaceful), and I'd like to believe he was more content. He was getting older, so he had trouble getting around, but you could always tell that his spirits were lifted when we kids came home for Christmas. He's happy in this picture, and I'm sure as time goes on I'll remember him like this--during the happy times.

That's all I can think about writing for the moment. There's so much more that could be said, but I think that this will suffice for a public forum. But anyway, to end on a lighter note, since we're looking at old pictures, behold my glamorous Mom from back in the day:

And that's the beep for now. I'll be posting again soon, because I actually do have a new project to announce. But that will be in a few days. So for now, I'll say, see you soon.....

Ed Shepp

ADDENDUM: I said before that it's impossible to convey who my father was to you if you didn't know him. So maybe I didn't convey that he was certainly a loving father at times. All my memories of him when I was very young were good. I had nothing but love for him. He was a loving father, amazed by his children. Things were more difficult in adolescence--they always are. (The fact that I was, well, different from the other kids made adolescence for me an altogether more difficult time--the secrecy, etc.... It was a different era, and thanks cod things have changed some.) And I don't know if he had the emotional capacity to, say, apologize for the times he was cruel; but I'm sure he felt bad about them. In his later years, though, he seemed to have come to terms with whatever demons he'd been struggling with before; he was kinder, and more loving, as far as someone of his generation could be. One good memory of him I have was from last Christmas--I made a list of the things I wanted as gifts (it's a tradition), and one was new eyeglasses. I didn't expect them to buy me those, because that would be ridiculously expensive. But they did. Dad drove me to get them and paid what I think ended up being $400 for new pairs. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, but I was happily surprised, maybe even touched. One more thing: Mom told me that near the end, when he was in the hospital, Dad expressed a lot of gratitude (something he'd never been good at) to her for visiting him in the hospital, as if he didn't expect that she would. My Mom can't understand that, but it says more about what Dad thought about himself than what he thought about Mom. I'd hate to think that Dad lived with a sense that he wasn't deserving of love.

Another unrelated thing that I probably should have mentioned before: I got a lot of my sense of humor from Dad. My love of nonsense syllables, my stories, etc. There's a lot of Dad in my first CD, Bling. I just thought I'd mention that. And that's the beep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Ed,

I am so sorry to read about your father's passing. Your post was so touching, and the photos of your parents are just lovely. I'm glad that you have happy memories of your dad, and hope that they bring you and your family comfort at this time and for all time.

Be well,

Megan Murphy (from WFMU)