Happy Birthday

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 80 years old today. I still feel a little twinge of jealousy when one of my friends tells me about heading out for a visit with their dad, or when I see someone hale and hearty on television in their mid-seventies — especially if they’re espousing something hateful — for my father died when he was 68.

I had a fortunate childhood. It was idyllic in a lot of ways. I’d never let my kids ride their bikes all over the city the way I used to do. It seemed like there was more freedom then just to be a child. And while I had homework, I wasn’t slaving away for hours every night the way my children are doing. I had time to play and learn and grow on my own. I could read whatever I wanted, not just what was mandated, because there was time.

But apart from those good things, I had a loving family to come home to. My mother and father were supportive and encouraging. I got my love of science fiction and fantasy from my mom, who read me The Hobbit when I was very small. When I was older I plundered her shelves for science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, coming away with Farmer and Heinlein and LeGuin and Bradbury and scads of others.  Neither of my parents seemed to particularly enjoy Star Trek, but they didn’t mind that I watched it.

Dad was an amateur musician, and while our musical tastes were pretty different, we could talk together in the way musicians do about chord progressions, and arrangement, and melody. I miss that. With my own son 15 I’m starting to have those sorts of conversations again, and it’s a sincere pleasure to hear someone else playing the guitar my father handed down to me. Until now the only other time I ever heard someone regularly strumming that guitar was while Dad was sitting with it in the other room. Its sound, then is bittersweet.

The last talk I had with my father was about bass lines. He’d been working on improving his piano playing, and was calling me for advice. I’m not a gifted player by any stretch, but I have a good ear and can fake it pretty well. Anyway, he had made some breakthroughs on his playing independent parts with the left hand and wanted to talk to me about it. Dad was always learning something. He’d been an English prof for years, but when he retired, he took up piano repair and tuning, and spent more and more time with the music that he had always loved. I wish he could hear just how astonishing his grandson has become with his piano playing. I wish he could see just how talented and intelligent both of my kids are. I would have liked to have gotten advice from him about teaching English comp, which I didn’t take up until after his death. I should have liked to have handed him my first novel.

Most of all, though, I’d just like him to be there for my mom and the rest of us. You were a good man, Dad, and an excellent role-model. I still strive hard to live up to your example. Happy Birthday.