My dad’s legacy

Among the greatest gifts from my dad was the certainty that no argument between us would threaten the integrity of our relationship. I had some vague sense of this growing up, but it was not until my own adulthood that I fully appreciated the value of this present. As a therapist I see all too often how people have learned that the best route through a disagreement is to remain silent, lest the parent erupt into violence. Or sometimes having to endure the excruciating silence of their parent. This creates a multitude of challenges that require a lot of hard work to unlearn, or to find a new way of communicating. I knew that no matter how furious either of us was, that we would return to joking, and that at the base of our connection was a firm layer of love and respect.

The other overt message I still consider and embrace was the notion that I should do well in school/work, but I should not allow it to take over my life. I should always make sure that it was balanced by doing other things I enjoy, and spending time with people I love. This was meaningful then, and has truly shaped my life and the choices I make on a daily basis. I have come to realize that this kind of suggestion has always been critical to me. I push myself to achieve, but I have always kept in mind how vital it is to maintain hold of my free time, and my connection with others. This sometimes isn’t easy, and there are times when work, or other demands take front seat, but I return to the home base of my family and friends, my commitment (need) to exercise and to kick back and relax, whatever that means—eat out, travel, see movies, live music or theater.

My dad died unexpectedly at age 65—ten days after his aortic aneurysm burst. I’m glad we had the opportunity to see and connect with him post surgery, and before his system started shutting down. I know he would have chosen to leave the planet rather than survive with extreme disabilities, if that was an option. That was made clear from the many rounds of “would you rather” that he initiated. The darker side of him would think about (dwell on?) a multiplicity of challenges, and which would be preferred.

It has been thirty years since his death, and there is still so much that remains clear about who he was. I’m grateful that his sense of humor, and our periodic pun battles live on in my day to day life. And his passion for music has transferred itself to me. Not all the same music, of course, but his introduction to jazz through a six month tour with Charlie Parker cemented his deep enthusiasm and devotion to this genre. A classically (Juilliard) trained oboist, it was not the typical instrument that comes to mind when considering Bop. But that six months altered the course of his life, and ours. After teaching in the public school system, he started teaching at the college level, and started the jazz sequence at New Paltz College. I once attended his course on Improvisation, and saw first hand his encouragement of his students, and learned that improvisation requires a clear structure; it’s not the free for all that I imagined. Freedom within structure, another great lesson.

My mom outlived my dad by nearly 29 years, and the last years of her life required a lot of input from me. There was one time I hopped in the car to drive the 200+ miles to her home before her cardiac surgery and the first song that popped onto the radio was the first few bars of Just Friends, a tune my dad actually recorded on a bootleg version with Parker. The DJ removed the recording right after the quick oboe sole because the vinyl record he had was too scratchy, but it still served as a hello from my dad at a crucial time.

As we approach Father’s Day, I’m able to take a deep breath, and once again appreciate the variety of gifts that remain from my dad. I would have loved to have him here in person, for him to know my daughters, but I can hope that some of what I learned from him will endure through them.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.