The older I get, the more I admire my parents and their friends, almost all of whom have passed away. My father was, above all, a good man. His honesty and integrity were without question, and his quiet kindness was a living example to me. There was only one time in my childhood when he broke my heart and reduced me to tears. That single event troubled me for years, and I never knew how to bring it up and resolve it.
About forty years after that event, my father and I were chatting and he asked me if there was anything he did, as my father, that I resented. “Yes, actually, there is only one, and I have never mentioned it. I also have never been able to let go of it ever since I was a kid.”
My father was immediately fascinated. “Tell me,” he encouraged. “Please, what was it?”
I was still a little kid – I was in grade school, and there was a party at our home. We had those often, and my parents would invite their friends. There would be food and drinks and wonderful conversations and eventually the men would play gin rummy. It was one of those nights, a lovely party, and in the living room Mr. Sam Taylor and Dr. Phillip Siegel were having a fascinating conversation about God, and our obligation to be of service to humanity. Every time Mr. Taylor said, “God” I found myself moving closer to him. I wanted to hear everything. I wanted to understand. I was drawn as if I were a a chip of iron and the word “God” was a powerful magnet.
As Mr. Taylor spoke, I inched closer. He saw my interest and encouraged me to move towards him. My dad happened to walk by, and noticing me standing in front of Mr. Taylor, said, ”Burl, move back. You’re standing too close to Mr. Taylor.” I dutifully moved back, straining to catch every word.
As much as I wanted to be a good boy, and keep my distance, I couldn’t resist. Bit by bit, I worked my way back until I was close enough to hear every word. It was then my father saw my manifest “disobedience.’
Dad lost his temper, swept me up and reprimanded me. “No, Dave,” said Mr. Taylor, “It’s all right. Really.” Too late. I was paddled on my little rear all the way down the stairs and into my bedroom where I sobbed and sobbed for what seemed an eternity.
My father listened to his adult son recount an episode he never remembered, and one I would never forget. “If it is not too late, “ said my father, “may I apologize? I was wrong. Please forgive me.” He meant it. Apology accepted. I hugged him, and held on tight. I still remember his arms around me, but most of all I remember his scent.
There are times when the longing to be with my father again almost overwhelms me. I replay memories of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood — significant events and insignificant moments. I watch old home movies occasionally, and there we are: my mom, dad, brother Stan and sister Jan. Then my nostalgia expands and encompasses grandparents and aunts and uncles, and friends of the family. All of them live on in my mind and my heart. There are times when time itself is malleable, my parents are young and vibrant, my brother and sister are living their high school adventures, and I’m the peculiar younger child standing amidst adults, fascinated by Dr. Siegel and Mr. Taylor talking about God.
“Tell me something funny you remember from when you were little,“ Dad requested, and the following brief anecdote popped into my mind. One Sunday evening my family had dinner at the Siegel home. They had a dog named Spot. After dinner, we watched Macbeth on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. When Lady Macbeth said “out, damn spot,” the dog got up and left the room.