This week was my father’s birthday and, as always, it made me realize how many years he has been gone and what a loss it is that most of his grandchildren never had the chance to even meet him. Those who did were very young when he died and their memories are vague, more a feeling than anything else.
As the child of older parents, this phenomenon is, in some ways, inevitable. My dad was 49 when I was born and 50 when my brother entered the world. So, the odds of him having a long relationship with grandchildren (if any) were slim.
Yet I can’t help but think about all that he missed by not knowing this next generation and, even more so, how much they have missed by not having the chance to know him (or my mother who, while younger than he, died years earlier).
I think about the stories my dad told about his childhood in Poland, about the hardships, about being chased by a gang of boys who were throwing rocks and at him and calling him “dirty Jew.” I think about the challenges of coming to the United States at 15 and struggling to learn the language, to find a job and to make a life for himself and help his family.
A man who loved to learn, much of his education was self-directed. He took classes, read voraciously and relished discussion and debate on every topic from politics to philosophy. His expectations of himself were high in every area and his expectations of my brother and me even higher.
While I think about what is lost without his presence—the stories, the history and the connection—I also think find some comfort in what I call the “echoes” that I see. I see him reflected in my children in many ways, from the love of learning and debate to the effortless charm that means you “never know a stranger.”
The qualities I see in myself, well, those are not always those I would want to carry. I have inherited his well-honed worrying skills, the perfectionism, the setting of the bar for myself at increasing heights. While they may not be the traits I would have chosen, I do appreciate these reminders that I am, for good or ill, my father’s daughter.
As life moves inexorably forward, as our loved ones are gone from our lives or forever changed as a result of disease or disability, I think there is some comfort in finding these “echoes,” in knowing that there is continuity in life, that, in some way, we all carry on.