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Losing A Father On Father's Day

There are no doubt many people empathetic for Luke Russert today, losing his father, with whom he apparently had a very close bond (and a father who had a very close bond to his own father), two days before Father's day, and fresh out of college.

But I feel particularly so, having been in a similar situation, many years ago.

There were a lot of similarities, but three big differences.

First, while Luke had just finished college, I was in the middle of finals of my second-to-last semester. It was May, in Michigan, only a month before Father's Day. Fortunately, all of my professors were understanding, and allowed me to make up, including delaying the publication of the final report of a class space systems engineering project to which I had to contribute, being a major contributor. I recall sitting on the porch in Ann Arbor, on one of those perfect early summer days in June, after we laid my father to rest, in which the temperature, humidity and sunlight were exactly as intended, writing in longhand (which I hated) the orbital mechanics aspects of the concept to be handed to the Aerospace Engineering Department secretary for inclusion. I also remember Professor Don Greenwood, who literally wrote the book on dynamics, giving me some extra time to study for the oral exam that was part of his graduate course, and passing me, no doubt from pity.

Unlike Luke, I graduated from college without my father having been able to see it happen, something which he no doubt often doubted (as did I, often) would ever happen.

Second, and trivially, my father was not a world-famous newsman, though he was as well-respected in his much smaller community of Flint, Michigan. He had been the producer for many years of the A.C. Spark Plug (now Delphi, and no longer part of GM) spring and fall concerts at the IMA Auditorium, in which he had lined up major stars of the era, including Edie Adams, Peter Palmer, Anita Bryant, and many others, with the contributions of the GM divisions vocal chorus clubs and its many talented employees. I recall going out to Luigi's for the best pizza anywhere with them, a restaurant which still has many pictures of those stars on its walls.

I recall from my own eulogy that I gave at the Unitarian service, that he was an inverse Will Rogers--that he never met a man who didn't like him. I also remember stealing a line from Barney Miller--that whenever someone would tell me what a great guy my dad was, I'd say, "Yeah, he's a block off the young chip."

But another big difference, perhaps the biggest, is that while, as Luke did, I lost my father to a heart attack (at an even younger age than Tim Russert--fifty five), it didn't happen suddenly. It took him over a month to die. It was his second (the first being over a decade earlier, when in his mid forties). The fact that I had to go back and forth between Flint and Ann Arbor to see him for three weeks contributed to my lackluster late-semester academic performance. It really wiped out the last of the semester, but it gave me the chance, unlike Luke, to say goodbye.

Fortunately for Luke, he perhaps didn't have as great a need, though the pain must have cut through him like a knife, being an ocean away when he heard the news, and knowing that there would be no last words. But Luke by all reports had a great relationship with his dad, and perhaps, let us hope, that no last words were necessary.

Almost three decades later, I feel as though I squandered my opportunity, being young and stupid. I felt that he didn't understand me, and what I was about or trying to do. I know now, as I approach the age of his dying (though I hope to live many years longer), that we were in many ways much more alike than in the superficial ways that, as I thought then, we were different. There are many things that I would say to my father given another chance, even only knowing what I knew then, but not having the wisdom to do so. We had had our differences, and even lying in the hospital, his lungs filling with fluid, slowly drowning him from the congestive heart failure, I couldn't tell him that I loved him, but I think that he knew I did. I can only console myself now with that hope. I would hope that had he lived, he would have been proud of what I have done with my life though, in honesty, I'm not always that proud myself. There are many mistakes that I've made, but almost always in good, if naive intent.

The hardest part of that month was that I was the one who had to tell his widowed mother, a woman who had come to this country early in the century, and lost many of those she left behind in Europe to the Holocaust, that he, her only child, who had survived many missions in the waist of a B-25 over Italy, and was the only member of the crew to get out of the last mission without being killed or captured, had died. I still remember her audible grief. "He was my Einstein," she cried, she wailed. I held her, and cried with her. She went back to her condo in Miami Beach, and died herself less than three years later, no doubt from heartbreak.

I doubt if he reads this blog, but on the off chance that he does, on this Father's Day, Dad? Thank you for everything. I love you.

Happy Father's Day.


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Carl Pham wrote:

Well said.

Whatever else he was, we who read TT know the old man did a good job as father.

Joe Buckley wrote:

Great story (and writing), Rand. Thanks.
I'm struck by how many see themselves, now, in Tim Russert. Born in Buffalo, in the '50s into a working class immigrant family (with a great, hard working father), educated in the mid-west, coming to Washington for a career that intersects with intelligent and important people - that happens to be my story as well as Mr. Russert's.

He seems to be a part of everyone that way.

Josh Reiter wrote:

Thanks for sharing some of your deepest most heartfelt emotions with us Rand.

Rand says:
"I couldn't tell him that I loved him, but I think that he knew I did."

He absolutely knew that you loved him, as well he was most certainly proud to have you as a son.

I had the opportunity to see my Grandfather about 6 months before he passed away. With the family gathered around he said that he was happy to see us all and that he knew that this was most likely going to be his last. Then, a silence surrounded the group and we solemnly looked down. We all knew there was a great deal of truth in what he just said. I wanted to tell him how great of a grandfather he was and how much I loved him. I gently placed my hand on his shoulder and he looked up and into my eyes. All those things I wanted to say, all those emotions I felt were instantly realized.

Ed Minchau wrote:

I wrote this when my dad died two years ago.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on June 15, 2008 6:25 PM.

A Turnaround? was the previous entry in this blog.

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