Ode to Joy
I loved my father so much that I couldn't understand how I would be able to survive when he died. And his death seemed to be an ever-present threat: He had had rheumatic fever as a child in the days before doctors knew that the disease could damage the heart, and as a result he had a deteriorating aortic valve. "Anything over 40 is gravy for you," one of his doctors told him. He was nearly 37 when I was born.
For as long as I can remember, on Saturday mornings as soon as the weather turned warm, my father would fling open the doors and windows of our suburban house and fill the spring air with Vivaldi or Beethoven or Haydn quartets at full volume on our living room stereo. The passion in the music pumped through him like life blood; he sang and sometimes whistled along vivaciously, conducting his imaginary orchestra with enormous gusto, flushed and lifted by the gorgeousness of it all. His face full of joy, he'd catch my eye, as I sat, at 5 or 6, cross-legged on the floor in my overalls and saddle shoes, and in his look there was the gift: See?
When my son was about to leave for college two years ago, in the course of a conversation about separating, he asked me how I felt about losing my father, who died when I was 30. It wasn't at all what I thought it would be, I told him. Every time I feel happy, I recognize Grandpa's spirit, I said. I looked at my son; he looked at me. I see, he said. He did.
Next: Inheriting your father's strength