Today would have been my dad’s 63rd birthday.
I spent the day a million miles from home celebrating his life, doing all of the things that he loved. I went to the beach, swam in the ocean, listened to Motown, drank frozen lemonade and blew out candles in his honor. I cried — a lot — but was happy to be able to do something special for him.
I’ve been trying to find the words to honor him publicly, but frankly, it’s just too hard. Every time I remember what an incredible human being he was, I completely breakdown. But I know he would have absolutely loved a birthday blog post, so I’ve decided to share something I wrote for him a few years ago. I didn’t change the tense, because this is how I will always remember him, and hope that you will too.
For anyone who didn’t get the chance to meet my dad, here’s a glimpse into the amazing man I was lucky enough to know, love and look up to for 25 years.
My dad is the worst driver on the planet. The man is banned from every rental car agency in America, and has had so many accidents it’s a miracle he’s still allowed on the road (I’m not 100% sure he has a valid drivers license, but that doesn’t seem to stop him). He’s fallen asleep on the highway, crashed into a biker or two and once drove into the enormous LAX sign at the Los Angeles airport (don’t worry — he was fine.). He’s an absolute loony tune behind the wheel, and that’s putting it nicely.
But, nevertheless, he drove me to school every single morning growing up, and it was always the highlight of my day.
Every morning, I would come out (20-30 minutes late) and he would be waiting for me — heat on and CD’s lined up and ready to go (this was before the days of iPods and Bluetooth’s and all of that fancy stuff that I still barely know how to use). He doesn’t sleep, so most days he would have already gone and picked up breakfast from Felicia’s — two high fiber muffins, an iced coffee for me and a pomegranate iced tea, light ice, for him — and would wait patiently for me as I tried, in vein, to figure out how to straighten the back of my hair and pick out an outfit that was cute, but still in dress code, before 7am.
For 25 minutes each day, we would blast Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell and Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder and Kenny Rogers, and sing vintage duets at the top of our lungs. We talked about everything and nothing, and it is something that, as a daughter, I have always been incredibly grateful for.
I’ll admit, besides the car rides, most of the time in high school he drove me completely insane. He was obsessed with the idea of me getting into college, and tortured me about grades and extracurricular activities and test scores. Every Saturday for an entire year, he made me drive two and a half hours EACH WAY to Greenwich, Connecticut to meet with “the best SAT tutor on the East Coast” (honestly, the guy kind of sucked).
At the time, I was SO mad at him, mostly because the stupid tutor meetings meant missing my quarterback boyfriend’s weekly football games. Now, though, with a Georgetown degree behind me and a master’s degree from Columbia ahead of me, I’m grateful. Plus, the quarterback boyfriend turned out to be an ass hole. Thanks for the foresight, dad. And I’ll finally say it: You. Were. Right.
When you look at his history, though his whole outlook on education makes complete sense (as irritating as it sometimes was to a 15-year-old who just wanted to shop and hang out with her boyfriend). Growing up, he had horrible learning disabilities and often tells the story of how when he was in third grade, they used to line he and his Special-Ed classmates up in the cafeteria and all of the other kids would point at them and shout “Retards!”
“I’ll show them,” he decided. And he did.
He was the first Jewish person to graduate from Providence’s most elite Catholic school (I’m pretty sure it was only because he got a Kennedy to speak at graduation, in typical Mark Weiner fashion) and went onto Harvard. Granted, it was Harvard night school open enrollment, and it took him eight years to graduate, but it was HARVARD nonetheless. For a guy who still doesn’t know the difference between “our” and “are” (as anyone who gets his dozens of daily mass-emails can attest to) I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
Now, between all of my siblings and I, he has two Georgetown alumni and a Duke alumni to brag about.
Fine, dad, you win: All the bullying us about our educations paid off. I’m sorry none of us ever made it to Harvard, though — maybe I’ll delay the real world another year and go for a doctorate?
When my dad earned an honorary degree from Rhode Island College a few years ago, when they introduced him they talked about how he “walks with presidents and dignitaries.” And while yes, that’s true — famous people love hanging out with him because he’s good-hearted, smart and entertaining as hell — it’s literally one of the least interesting things about him. Imagine that, for a second: Here’s a guy who travels all over the world with former presidents and dines with celebrities and has Hilary Clinton on speed dial, and it’s barely worth mentioning among all of his other accolades.
Simply put: He’s the man.
My dad is the most amazing human I have ever known, and I truly believe he’s fulfilling his purpose on this earth. His goal in life, which he’s reminds us of all the time, is to “do something nice for someone else every day.” He was a humanitarian in the purest sense of the word, and gave every single piece of his heart to those in need.
I can think of a million examples, and I know that there are a million more that he never even told us about, but there’s one that I will never, ever forget. It was 10-ish years ago, and we were out to dinner with a friend of my parents’ who was going through a pretty intense round of chemo at the time. It was the middle of February and when we walked outside after we ate it was absolutely freezing. Without a word my dad took off his shirt and gave it to his bald, shivering friend.
But that’s just the kind of person he is: The guy who takes off his shirt in the snow, gives it to his friend, and then offers him a hairy-chested, bare-bellied hug to keep him warm.
Some other things worth noting about my dad: he loves Motown, Del’s lemonade, and his dogs. He is single-handedly keeping record stores, movie theaters and bookstores in business with his patronage, and his favorite outfit is a red, white and blue Adidas track suit. He writes love letters (ok, e-mails) to my mom every day, all of which include the line “she is even more beautiful today than the day I met her” and all of which have all 6 of my siblings and at least four of their friends CC’d on them. He takes 9-zillion pictures, mostly of nothing, but we are all always thankful for it when he happens to catch a tender family moment or one of us looking particularly cute and thin. He’s the most brilliant man I know, but also the quirkiest and most humble. He’s had the same best friend since childhood, which says more about his loyalty than anything I could ever write.
He’s my dad, and I am the luckiest girl in the world to have him. I love him more than anything in the entire world, but from now on, I’ll drive.