Gifts from my father on Father’s Day

“My father didn’t tell me how to live;
he lived, and let me watch him do it”

Clarence B. Kelland

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Photo by Arleen wiese on Unsplash

I was lucky to have a father who was a college professor, a world traveler and a master conversationalist. You would be hard pressed to find subject he couldn’t speak on knowledgeably, in detail. And he talked to everyone. He was as likely to be great friends with the security guard at the mall as he was with fellow educators.

Fatherhood came late in life to him at 46. He asked for the senior citizen discount everywhere we went, always an embarrassment to my teenage self. People generally assumed he was my grandfather. That’s what it looked like. I didn’t love that, but with his age came a certain calm demeanor most fathers did not possess. He rarely got annoyed or impatient with anyone.

He wasn’t the perfect father and I wasn’t the perfect daughter. I can’t stress the second part of that statement enough. I was not easy. We struggled through our relationship at times, wondering what to make of one another. He grew up a child of immigrants in the depression-era 30’s in Manhattan. I grew up a child of the 80’s in the New Jersey suburbs. We had a large gap to bridge. He couldn’t abide Madonna’s talk of virginity, or lack thereof and I didn’t want to relax into Tchaikovsky. He was a 61 year old father to a 15 year old daughter. And somehow we muddled through.

The one true passion in his life was seeing the world. His love of adventure afforded me the opportunity to travel at a young age. We spent summers on the Mediterranean, in European cities and on Caribbean islands. No city or village along the way was left unexplored. Manhattan was as familiar to me as my hometown. I experienced ballet, Broadway shows, opera and symphony. We visited monasteries, mountains and museums. Life was an adventure to be experienced and we went everywhere.

Some days were just typical buzzing around town. On one in particular, we stopped at Dunkin Donuts to grab a coffee. When we walked in, there were a few teenagers working behind the counter. They greeted my father loudly from across the room, “Hey Dr. Murphy! How are you?” They chatted away to him talking about school and their personal lives. He questioned them about their grades and school attendance. They dutifully answered that they were working hard. It went on and on. These kids were clearly enamored with my dad and trying to impress him. Teenagers were trying to impress a 60 year old college professor. What was happening? Once we got our coffees and walked outside I asked, “What was that about?”

He turned to me and said, “Do you know those kids had never been to a Yankees game? You can’t go through your whole life and never see the inside of Yankee Stadium. So I took them all last weekend.”

I just smiled back at my father.

He was always doing things like that. His pursuits in life were all about education and experience. And those pursuits were not exclusive to creating experiences just for himself. The goal was always to share his love of travel, to expand your horizons, to see the world broadly. He gave that gift to me, to those kids at Dunkin Donuts and to nearly everyone he encountered. That is a pretty amazing legacy.

My father passed away 13 years ago after a terrible fall. I had the opportunity to take care of him until the end. Even as the long days and nights in the hospital stretched into long months, we never ran out of conversations to keep us entertained. And when he could no longer speak, we turned to spelling it out. The great conversations never stopped.

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Holidays seem like milestones as the years pass. I know I am not alone in missing someone very special. Taking a moment to keep even one small memory alive feels like a gift meant to be shared. It doesn’t have to be Father’s Day for me to remember and miss him. I do that every day. But today is the perfect day to say thanks Dad, you were amazing.

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