The Privilege of Being Loved
A Year of Essays: January 7, 2022
Somehow, I missed the Ask Amy column when she first posted this: “You mourn because you experienced the privilege of being loved.” Fate determined I see it today, the day Dad was born 101 years ago.
Dad was fun. He and my mother were separated when I was between the ages of 5 and 12. During that time, he was stationed at bases either abroad or stateside. When he came home, he brought exotic gifts, grand stories, vivid photographs, and let me ride on his shoulders. He had a perpetual smile and seemed to shake off most things.
When Dad moved back in permanently, my position as “the man of the house” was usurped, and I spent those angsty teenage years roiling in my own concocted misery. As I started to make sense of the world and the role of the military, he was patient, never condescending, even when I accused him of killing babies. I’m sure he winced, but I never saw it.
Yet, he simply loved me. As he did his other son and my mom’s two children. At his memorial service, my sister told the story when he asked if he could marry her mother. My sister, nine at the time and wizened because of our mother, asked, “What would happen if you divorced? Would you still be my Daddy” To which he responded, “Even if we break up, I will always be your Daddy.” They did divorce, twice, but he was always our Daddy.
In adulthood, we became friends. We’d travel, always with two decks of cards so we could play canasta on a porch or bent over a coffee table. Whenever he or I would start whistling during canasta, the other began whistling a harmony. He’d take me to museums; I’d take him to the theatre. Once, we saw Bea Arthur on Broadway. I looked around before the show, and jokingly said to him, “You’re the only straight man in this theatre.” He howled, and said, “Lucky for Bea!”
In his later years, I arranged for him to work at the front desk of a high-rise apartment in Metro D.C. in exchange for an apartment. He was there almost 17 years, even working the night before he had the stroke that felled him. Everyone in the building loved him. And just about the entire building came to the celebration of his life.
One morning at breakfast, well into his 80s, he matter-of-factly said, “I wake up every morning, wondering how many people I killed during the war, and I wonder if God will ever forgive me.” My heart broke a little, particularly because of my earlier jabs. But in that moment, I saw a full human, one with heart and soul, that heart and soul filled with love. Love not only for me, but for my siblings, my mother, people around him, and for his country. A fine, fine man, one whom I still mourn, because I experienced the privilege of being loved by him.