What I remember most about my father is his hands. Large and tan, the backs covered in a fine forest of smooth black hair, they wiped away my tears, washed my hair, edited my papers, and made my dinners. In the later years of his life he took to wearing what he referred to as “man jewelry”; a Pittsburgh Pirates cord necklace. An Alaskan silver bracelet, engraved with a raven. But for as long as I have been alive, he always wore his college ring – a large gold band, with a cut amber stone that shone brighter than sunlight.
When I was a child, I asked him about it. What it was, why he never took it off. I remember sitting on the floor of my parent’s bedroom, the safest place in the world, with the ring held in my stubby fingertips. My dad explained he bought it for himself after he’d become a doctor – that’s what the PhD letters on the side meant. I asked him why. He explained that he had been proud to have gotten a degree where he felt he could make a difference and he wore the ring as a reminder that he’d achieved something good.
My dad was many things. He was a carpenter. He loved to work with his hands and he could make wood look like marble. He was an artist, though I don’t know if he ever thought of himself that way. He was an academic, with a poet’s soul, and though he never got a chance to write his book, I know I’ve written mine because of him.
We never could agree who was the better composer: Beethoven or Chopin. Nights at the dinner table were spent playing our own version of “Name That Tune” where Dad would put five or six movie soundtracks on shuffle and make us guess where each theme was from. He could sit in the living room, listening to everything from Pachelbel to Elton John with a stillness and eloquence I envied and did my best to emulate. He taught me to enjoy silence as much as value words. Although he was always ready with a Franklin-style homily, when I think of Dad I more often think of silence than anything else.
The silence since his passing has been deafening. And words which once enriched my life seem empty. I fill up the hole in my heart with the stories people tell me about my dad, with the words they share with me about how much he made a difference in their life. I don’t know yet if there will ever be the right words to describe how much his life has changed mine. But I know that he wouldn’t want me to stop looking for them, the right words, and that one day I will make a difference just as he did. My dad achieved so much more than I think he ever realized. And though I have pieces of him in every book he inscribed to me and every CD he gave to me, I know he left his mark on every heart here, and that each of us will look to his memory for guidance moving forward.
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