Best Father’s Day Gift Ever

Maggie gave me a framed picture that is one of her favorite pictures of her, me, and Elena. She didn’t know, but it’s my favorite picture of the three of us too.

Last year when Kim and I were helping her move into her dorm room I noticed that it was one of the pictures she’d brought to college with her and it made me very happy.

In the picture, she’s probably six. Elena’s probably four.

In order to have more time to spend with them, I was getting up earlier and earlier and coming downstairs to write and edit.

Kim would come downstairs and make us coffee and then the girls would burst onto the scene.

In the picture, I’m in my armchair. I’ve heard the girls on the stairs and have closed my laptop and propped it against the chair under my legs. The dog is nowhere to be seen. She’s probably hiding in the kitchen.

Elena is laying back across my legs. She’s wearing flannel pajamas and is sprawled comfortable with her arms over her head lounging back. She’s smiling and looking directly at the camera.

No matter how quiet or careful Kim was about approaching us with a camera, Elena had a sixth sense and in almost every picture is looking at and performing for the camera.

Maggie is wearing a night shirt and is perched on the back of the chair hovering over my head. Uncharacteristically, she too has spotted Kim and is smiling at the camera.

Thousands more words wouldn’t paint that picture for you – but it’s one that affirms “yeah, that’s what being a dad is all about.”

So many great moments I remember. There’s nothing better than being a dad.

A couple of weeks ago, Kim encouraged me to apply for a job even though it meant we would have to live parts of the year apart.

I cited the cliche that no one dies wishing they had worked more. She countered that this was something different – something more than work. This job seemed special.

Several times I’ve looked at really cool jobs – but they required me to live away from my girls or to take them away from their grandparents. It made it easy to say “thank you, but I’m sorry, I can’t.”

Kim felt this time was different. Maggie is at college and Kim and I could find a way to make this work.

So I went out to interview.

I had a great time. I enjoyed everyone I interviewed with and had a fun day answering questions. Along the way I discovered that although the job was challenging and fun and involved working with bright people, it wasn’t the job I thought I was interviewing for.

I’m sure I could have been successful in the job but it wasn’t a “this is a job worth working away from Kim” kind of job.

I’m not sure whether they would have said yes or no to me but I said “thank you, but I’m sorry, I can’t.” I told them what sort of job would change my answer – but this was a job that is perfect for someone else.

This is my eleventh Father’s Day at Elena’s graveside. I think of her and I think of the father I am and want to be. I think I made the most of my time as her dad. I hope I am the dad that Maggie deserves.

Maggie is way more than I could ever expect of a daughter. Of course there are things that drive me crazy or make me roll my eyes, but she’s an incredible person who makes me laugh and think deeply all the time.

And today, on Father’s Day, Maggie made me cry.

Often that would be a bad thing but she did it in such a thoughtful beautiful way.

She wrapped herself around my heart and gave me a picture that is a favorite for both of us.

She brought back a moment when she and her younger sister and her mother standing behind the picture that captured the moment surrounded me with love.

Best Father’s Day gift ever.

Published in: on June 19, 2016 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

(Not so) Old People

Elena loved hanging with old people.

There was the crew at the McDonalds her grandmother took her to. Folks in their 80s and Elena would fit right in.

There were the wakes and the funerals – she loved those.

Kim and Maggie and I love hanging with old people too and in the past few months we’ve lost three great ones.

Sue was just 80. She was the youngest of the three. She had spent a lifetime working for women’s rights with the Cleveland chapter of the NOW. She’d helped found the Cleveland Rape Crisis center.

You’d think she’d be militant and preachy. She wasn’t. She was wonderful to be around. She would join our coffee group on weekends at the Shaker Square Arabica and talk about gardening, work, whatever. She listened intently and was always interested in other people.

Just before Elena died we went to her and Bob’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Elena was so afraid she was going to spill the beans since it was a surprise party that she walked around the house with her hand over her mouth the whole time Bob was over.

Elena didn’t really know the other two we lost.

Nate was someone I remembered from when I was a kid. There are pictures of us over at his family’s house for Passover. He always talked to kids like they had something to say. I remember that so clearly from my childhood and I got to observe it as Nate talked to Maggie when she was younger.

Nate was retired from the Classics department at Oberlin College. He loved to ask Maggie about her Latin classes and Latin conventions. His wife Eva remembered poetry she’d memorized more than sixty years earlier. Nate was always learning, always sharing ideas, always listening, right up to his death.

And then there was Helen.

So many of my parent’s friends in their retirement community are people I’ve known all my life. They were faculty members at the college or taught at the high school or worked in town. These are people whose kids were my age or who went to school with my brother or sister.

Not Helen and Bob.

They are new friends. We didn’t meet them until they were more than eighty years old. They were smart and sharp and fun to talk to. They pressed Maggie to keep her grades up (she did) and to enjoy college but not too much. They played bridge and were funny. You just felt better being around them. In their nineties they were younger than so many other people I know.

Helen used to find money and other valuables wherever she went. Whenever I’d travel she’d tell me to report back about the money I found. I was a big disappointment to her. Not really. It was a game we’d play. She’d ask me if I’d found any money and I’d have to admit that I hadn’t. She’d sadly shake her head.

In the last few months Sue, Nate, and Helen have all died. Ranging from 80 to 91. They all died. It feels like they all died too young.

Monday was Washington’s birthday. It was also the tenth anniversary of Elena dying.

She never lived to be sixteen, let alone sixty.

When she died, Kim said “she’ll never live to get her heart broken.”

Sometimes it comforts me to imagine an afterlife where the people I know find each other.

An afterlife where Sue explains to Elena what it means to be a woman and Elena explains Girl Power back to her.

An afterlife where Nate tells Elena stories of when her father was her age.

An afterlife where Elena brings Helen coins and beams when Helen tells her, “you know, your father could never find any. You’re very good at that.”

Published in: on February 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm  Comments (2)  

More than words

Kim and I never really celebrate Valentine’s Day.

We make cards for each other, but we don’t tend to buy candy and flowers just because today is Valentine’s Day.

Kim gets up every morning early and lets the dog out and makes coffee for us. That says “I love you” better than a box of chocolate on a day you’re supposed to give a box of chocolate.

This year we ran up to the gym to workout on Valentine’s Day in the afternoon. On our way back we stopped at the grocery store. We needed cream for Kim’s coffee, coffee beans, and a few other items. I asked Kim if she wanted to come in or stay in the car. She wanted to stay in the car so I ran in while Kim stayed in the warm car. That’s how you say “I love you.”

We were going out with friends for dinner. I didn’t really feel like it, but Kim did so she had said yes when her friend called to invite us. I like her friend and her friend’s husband. I just didn’t want to go out on Valentine’s Day. Kim wanted to, so I said yes.

We actually don’t say “I love you” very much. At least not to each other. We used to say it all the time to the girls. We still say it to Maggie even though it makes her feel uncomfortable. She needs to hear it.

Kim and I don’t need to hear it. We need to feel it from each other and we do. We just do the things for each other that say “I love you” more than words.

Here in Cleveland it was 8 degrees Fahrenheit with a strong breeze on Valentine’s Day night. The coat I’d been wearing wasn’t warm enough and it wouldn’t fit over a sports coat. Kim looked in the closet and found a coat I hadn’t worn in a long time.

It was so warm and comfortable – I don’t know why I hadn’t worn it. In fact, I couldn’t think of the last time I wore it.

I couldn’t remember until I put my hand in the pocket to see what was there.

It was a sheet of paper with the prayers to be said at the grave site.

I last wore this coat nearly nine years ago at Elena’s funeral. I didn’t even read the words on the page. Just feeling this folded up paper in my pocket and glancing at it was enough to take me back there.

My eyes welled up. Kim asked, “what is it?” I showed her. I was suddenly so sad.

We stood without speaking and thought of Elena.

We went out to dinner and Kim’s friend mentioned Elena about half way through the appetizers. Suddenly, I was glad we were spending dinner with these people who had known Elena and who weren’t afraid to bring her up in conversation.

Valentine’s Day and the tree in Elena and Jan’s garden is filled with wooden valentines. Once again Susan and her son have made the valentines and hung them on the tree. Nearly nine years since the day Elena died and they still remember. That says “I love you” so much more than words.

Actually, today is nine years since Elena died. Kim has just left for church with her parents. I observe the day by writing. Soon we’ll all meet for breakfast and share memories.

During this past year I looked in the eyes of another father who had lost a young daughter. He said to me “don’t tell me that it will be ok.” He asked me not to tell him of my journey because he needed to take his.

I hugged him and said, “of course.”

It’s been nine years and Kim and I are still on this journey. Our journey is different than his.

I don’t know what I expected.

Thankfully, I’m not alone on this journey. Kim and I are there for each other in ways that say “I love you” so much more than words.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 11:04 am  Comments (3)  

The Secret Club

Every year, there’s a friend who has had or adopted a child in the past year and is celebrating his first Father’s Day as a father. This year Jonathan and GI joined this club.

“Welcome,” I write to them. It’s like joining a club. The day changes forever once you’re a dad. Your relationship with other people, with your own dad, with you father-in-law… they all change as you watch yourself as a father.

I am unbelievably happy for them. As much as I feel for Kim after nearly twenty-one years of marriage, the love I feel as a dad is chest-expandingly huge.

Not everyone feels that way as a parent.

Maybe there’s a secret club that only some parents join. The members are the ones who take time every day to appreciate their children and really see and hear them.

I look at Maggie and instantly see her at different phases. I see her as the child I first held nearly seventeen years ago and I see her in flashes in moments since.

She’s now graduated from High School.

She’s moving out. She’s moving on.

I try not to cling, but I’m not ready yet to let her go. She’s a grown-up and yet she’s still that child in a high chair shoving frozen peas in her mouth.

Her teeth are straight. Her hair is long. Her vocabulary is immense. Her wit is sharp.

She smiles – not really at me but in front of me and I see her as the put-together 17 year-old child she’s become. But I also see that infant smile still there behind the one everyone else sees.

I catch myself.

It isn’t as if we’re about to lose another child. Maggie will just be a few hundred miles away. I can text her. I can call her. I know she’ll still be alive.

But she won’t be here. In a way, she’ll be gone.

Not gone, gone. Not like Elena.

Maybe that’s the issue.

Maybe Maggie leaving reminds Kim and me that we should have three more years before our kids are done at the high school.

Elena would have been the 100th graduating class. We should have three more years of band, athletics, car pools, award ceremonies, late nights waiting for her to come home, whatever…

Kim and I aren’t ready for our final high school graduation to be behind us.

We’re so happy for Maggie. And yet.

It turns out. I’m part of another club. This year Eric joins us. Last year Kenny.

Fathers who have lost a child during the year join our club.

I don’t welcome them. I’m here to support them if they ask. I leave them alone if they don’t. Every father thinks their own situation – their own grief – is unique. Every father is right.

These new fathers may spend some part of Father’s Day at a grave that is so new that there’s no stone yet to mark the site. It’s so tough when the grave is still freshly covered over. It’s even tougher when enough time has passed that grass grows where the hole stood not so long ago.

They buried Eric’s daughter Rebecca Thursday just hours before Maggie graduated from High School.

I went to both ceremonies.

Rebecca died of a brain tumor on her sixth birthday. The family requested that people where purple to the funeral. That was Rebecca’s favorite color.


Every rainbow starts with purple. I only met Rebecca once but it will be nice to look up and see her at the beginning of every rainbow.

Her older sister is younger than Maggie was when Elena died. And yet she sung a song to her sister that was loud and clear in front of those gathered to help her mourn her loss.

Eric, the Rabbi, and a preschool teacher all told stories about their “Little Spark”.

Cute, smart, loving, devilish, felt things deeply.

As much as that sounds familiar, it was surprisingly easy to keep my attention on their loss, not mine; on Rebecca, not Elena.

At the end of the service, those gathered stood up. It was like a large purple cloth being shaken at a picnic.

A woman two rows ahead of me turned to her right and hugged one of her children and kissed her on the top of her head. She then turned to her left and hugged her other daughter and kissed her on the top of her head.

I smiled with recognition as my eyes filled with tears.

Thats what members of the secret club do when we see another member.

Published in: on June 15, 2014 at 8:07 pm  Comments (7)  


Maggie graduated from Shaker Heights High School Thursday night.

The women wore white. The men wore red.

Speakers reminded them of their common past and the opportunities that wait for them in the future. A graduation ceremony is always about the solid foundation the graduates have been given. The foundation on which they can build.

They’re told to dream big and work hard.

The superintendent reminded them of something I’ve told Maggie about college years. It’s a do-over. You get a chance to re-invent yourself. You aren’t surrounded by people who remember the way you are so you can git rid of habits and behaviors that keep you from being the person you want to be.

It’s taken me a lot longer to realize we get many do-overs in life. Any time we want to better ourselves we can. They are harder than starting again when you leave high school. But it’s possible.

Maggie’s class was the 97th to graduate from Shaker. Between four and five hundred students begin their do-overs now.

What do I want for Maggie?

I want her to be happy.

She’s smart, beautiful, funny, talented, and accomplished. I don’t doubt she can be whatever she wants to be. She can work towards many different careers and be professionally successful.

I want her to be happy.

Maggie observed kidney stone surgery recently. She is thinking of being a surgeon so she asked Manoj, her boyfriend’s father, if she could watch surgery one day during spring break.

She liked it – but it wasn’t bloody enough for her.

Manoj tried to fly home Wednesday night to be home for his son’s graduation Thursday night. The plane sat on the tarmac for three hours before the flight was cancelled. He managed to get onto a flight to Columbus and then rented a car with two other passengers and drove to Cleveland.

I want Maggie to be that kind of doctor. I want her to excel at her work and still put her family and friends first. What a great display of priority from a father to put that much effort into getting home for his son’s high school graduation.

That’s a mentor. A man who is great at his job and respected at work and who loves being with his kids. You just feel it.

During her senior project Maggie spent three weeks along with another student shadowing Charles, a kidney transplant surgeon.

She loved it. She’s more sure than ever that she wants to be a surgeon. Maybe she will be. Maybe she won’t.

In addition to surgical skills, Charles also modeled how to put patients at ease. He coaxed information out of patients that they didn’t know they knew themselves.

A couple of weeks ago, Charles texted Maggie some pictures of an organ from a surgery her performed after he had sent her and the other student home. He was still working.

He then sent a picture of Maggie and Elena that was taken when they were in elementary school.

Charles’ daughters had gone to school with my daughters. His eldest daughter had been a friend and classmate of Maggie’s throughout.

Their elementary school had hosted a 100th anniversary and posted pictures of kids from various years. Charles saw one of my girls and took a picture of it.

He sent it to Maggie as if to remind her that he’d known her since she was a little girl.

He’d always come to school events. We’d seen him at science nights and band concerts. And now he was mentoring her as she observed surgery.

I want Maggie to be that connected to the people around her.

Whatever she chooses to do, I know that she’ll be very good at it.

Mostly, I want her to be happy.

Published in: on June 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Sealing the Book

Every year in this week between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur I ask the same question:

“How could anyone leave the name of a beautiful six year old out of the book.”

The book.

The book of life has entries for everyone who will live another year. Your name is entered – or not – on Rosh Hashannah and the book is sealed on Yom Kippur.

What an odd concept.

In just a few hours from now this year’s book is sealed. If you believe in that literally, then at that point it is determined whether or not you will be around a year from now.

I have many questions.

There’s the legal question. Does it close at the end of Yom Kippur local time? I mean, I’m here in Cleveland. Is my fate sealed an hour before my sister’s is sealed in Chicago and three hour’s before my brother’s in California?

Come to think about it; what about my sister? She was home for Rosh Hashannah but here for Yom Kippur. If she was entered into the book according to the Chicago time zone then does she have an extra hour now that she’s here in Cleveland?

You’d think that maybe you have until Yom Kippur ends for the people in the last time zone on earth. No more Yom Kippur anywhere. Let’s close the book.

I have other questions.

If it’s known who isn’t going to make it through the year, why not just make it happen the day after Yom Kippur. Sure, you’d dread this day but once the day is over you could breathe more easily for another year.

And what about disasters?

If you are thumbing through the book, wouldn’t you have noticed a bump in New Yorker’s dying on that day in September twelve years ago. You would have known for a whole year that something awful was going to happen. You probably would have noticed that a lot of these people named in the book worked in the same building.

I guess, if my name is sealed in the book, there’s nothing to be done.

I ask questions. I have so many to ask.

Really, I’m not so very religious that I literally believe in this book of life.

If it existed, I’d want answers about why Elena’s name was left out eight years ago.

What we believe in tells us a lot about ourselves. What we believe collectively is a rich source of social knowledge as well.

What drove us to believe in this book of life? It must have comforted us. It must have helped us to believe that we can’t prevent loss.

How is that comforting?

And what about infants to be born who are not yet conceived. Does the book know which of these will survive?

So many questions.

This book.

This book that I don’t believe in.

I hope Maggie, Kim, and my names are in it when it is sealed tonight.

Published in: on September 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm  Comments (2)  

A Ghost Story

“Hi, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.”

“Hi, Baby.”


“Yes, Elena?”

“You still call me ‘baby’. How old am I when you picture me?”

“It varies. Some days you’re just as you were the day that you died. Some days you’re younger. Today you’re older.”

“How old?”

“Like a ninth grader.”

“Really? Am I as tall as you?”

“No. Sorry. I’m guessing you’d never have been tall. Your face is a little longer, your freckles have faded, and you use words that your mother and I wish you wouldn’t.”

“Mom does.”

“I know.”

“Especially when she’s driving.”

“I know.”

I picture Elena and Maggie driving sometimes. They’re in Kim’s convertible. The top is down. Both of them with their hair streaming behind. Elena telling Maggie to go faster. The image makes me smile.

Mostly I think about the living. But every once in a while I catch myself day dreaming about my dead daughter.

Like today.

It’s not so surprising. I’m sitting next to her grave as I do every Father’s Day.

Last night we had our block party. A ton of people came. They brought family and friends. There were kids everywhere. I love the energy the new kids bring to our street.

Maggie and I helped the kids roast marshmallows over a wood fire and make them into S’mores.

The kids ran, scootered, skate boarded, and biked up and down the street. They climbed into the Fire Truck when it visited our block party. They sat behind the wheel and smiled back at parents with cameras.

The kids we knew already look so much older. Not just taller –they’re faces are changing. They aren’t little kids any more.

I guess that’s why I see Elena as a ninth grader. She would have finished eighth grade this past week.


“Yes, baby.”

“Do you remember when we would make S’mores?”
“Of course.”

“Just you and me. Not mom and Maggie.”

“I remember both. Sometimes you and me. Sometimes all of us.”

“Good times. Good times.”

“Daddy. Last night, when you were done making S’mores, did you sit around the fire and tell ghost stories?”

“No, baby.”

“How come? Don’t you know any?”

“Sure I know plenty. My favorite one stars you.”

“Ooooh. Can I hear it?”

“It’s not very interesting.”

“I’m sure I’ll like it. Especially if it’s about me”

O.K., so I went to the doctor a few years ago for a check up.

He tested for various things and didn’t like what he saw on a heart test so he sent me for a stress test.

Mary Kay looked at the print out and said it was nothing. When I got to the stress test, the nurse looked at the print out and said it was nothing.

They gave me the test anyway.


“Yes baby.”

“This isn’t a very good story.”

“I told you.”

Anyway, they checked me out, injected something, and had me lay down for an MRI.

The slid the machine over me. It barely fit. Everything from the waist up was inside this closed capsule with no room to spare. I could feel the instrument rotating just inches away.

“Did you panic Daddy?”
“I started to. Then I stopped. You crawled onto my chest and lay with your head on my heart and wrapped your arms around my neck.”

“How old was I?”

“You were like two or three. My eyes were closed because the capsule was so tight. But I felt you there. It was so comforting.”

“My ghost?”


“How did you know?”

“I don’t know baby. Conversations like this one are just playful inventions that I use to remember you by. That day was different. There’s no logical reason that it was different. It just was.”

That day on the MRI table was the last time I felt Elena’s presence.

I continue to feel her loss.

Published in: on June 16, 2013 at 9:13 pm  Comments (6)  


If we had relived every moment of Elena’s life in the time since she died, today we would have come to the end once again.

The inflection point came somewhere around eight this morning. That was the moment at which Elena had been dead as long as she was alive.

I can’t remember living through a moment like that. Not with someone I knew and loved.

We usually think about these inflection points with famous people who are long dead.

Martin Luther King, Jr has been dead longer than he lived. He was killed before his fortieth birthday. He’s been gone for forty-five years.

Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed more than one hundred years before King. He’s been dead longer than he was alive.

Of course, that’s different.

You don’t often hear “if Abraham Lincoln were alive today.” He’d be two hundred and four years old.

You sometimes hear “if Abraham Lincoln were born today.” This is meant to convey wonder about what Lincoln would have been like if he’d lived in our times. Of course, our times would have been different if Lincoln wasn’t born when he was. Would the United States be two countries or one?

If Lincoln were born today in this world of iPhone and internet, would he have been different? Are we assuming he would be born in Illinois and grow to be a lawyer and eventually president?

In the last few months we’ve heard a surprising amount of people say “if Martin Luther King were alive today.”

King would be in his eighties. That’s a reasonable thing to speculate on.

The speculation, however, has been fascinating. Recently, an advocate of gun rights speculated that if Martin Luther King were alive today he would support unfettered access to guns. Others have been horrified by this. After all, King was assassinated with a gun. Of course, if King were alive today, he wouldn’t have been assassinated with a gun.

The truth is, we can’t know what King would or would not have supported if he were alive today.

King made changes during his own lifetime — he certainly would have made changes since.

He’s been dead longer than he lived. We can’t possibly know what would top his list today.

What would he have thought when he woke up this morning, the day after a black president delivered his fifth State of the Union address to Congress?

We can’t know.

Last night, President Obama pointed out an elderly black woman who stood in line for six hours just to cast her vote. Elderly might be an understatement. She was one hundred and two years old.

One hundred and two. Half of two hundred and four. She’s been alive half of the time since Lincoln was born.

Charles Darwin was born the exact same day as Lincoln. He died in 1882 less than thirty years since this elderly voter was born.

We measure time in terms of lives of people we know. “Oh that was before I was born.” “9-11 happened the week after my grandfather died.”

Elena has been gone longer than she was alive.

The inflection moment was here and it’s gone. She’ll always be dead longer than she was alive.

If Elena were alive today she would be an eighth grader. She wouldn’t yet be fourteen.

Would she be confirmed in the Catholic church? Bat Mitzvahed? There’s no way to know. What instrument would she play in the band? What language would she have chosen? Would she have gone to the school dances? Would she be tall or short? Would she still be a bundle of energy?

When I see her classmates I can just make out the six and seven year-olds living inside them. Their voices are changing. They no longer look or sound like I remember. They are trying on the clothes and ideas of people older than they are.

They are becoming who they will be.

They are amazing.

If Elena were alive today. . .

There’s just no end to that sentence.

She’s not.

I still have a lot of unanswered questions that I ask every day.

Published in: on February 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm  Comments (6)  

Father’s Day Card

Fourteen Father’s Days since Elena was born.

Half as many since she died.

Seven. Already.

It’s going to be like that all year until we reach the point at which she will have been gone as long as she lived.

One of Kim’s uncle’s was marking that moment for his child when we saw him at his brother’s wake. For him it was twenty some years. The point of parity was still sadly poignant for him.

I’m in my usual Father’s Day afternoon spot on the green bench just to the left of Elena’s grave.

A pair of middle aged african american women walk towards me. One says to me “if it wasn’t for that bench, I don’t think I could find the grave.”

I nod and smile and give them their space.

They unwrap two beautiful wreaths and follow the directions on the back to set them up. It takes them a while and I try not to intrude. They finish and step back and proudly admire their work.

“Happy Father’s day, daddy”, one says.

We chat a bit about the neighborhood. Their loved one is just down the row from Elena. We chat about how the section has almost filled. We chat about the bench that we both use as a marker. They say goodbye and walk back to their car.

The first time I was in this cemetery was for Clarissa and Mel’s wedding. They got married at the Garfield monument. I had no idea then that I’d someday be buried just down the way.

Mel didn’t used to call his mom on his birthday not hers. He used to say that his birthday meant more to her. It was her own Mother’s Day. The day she became a mother.

“Nonsense,” Clarissa told me. “He calls her on his birthday because he can’t remember when hers is.”

I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle.

On Mother’s Day I think of my mom, of course. I call her to check in knowing Kim has sent her a card.

Really, on Mother’s Day for the last fifteen years I mostly think of Kim. She’s the embodiment of motherhood to me. Her kids come first in a way that is good for them and good for her.

On Father’s Day I think of my dad, of course. I call him to check in. Yes, Kim has already sent a card.

Mostly, on Father’s Day, I think of my girls. I remember today, like all other days, that being a dad is the best.

I remember a woman turning to place Maggie in my arms. This bowling ball in a sailor suit who would soon become my daughter legally. Soon legally other but immediately in every other sense.

Later that first day while I napped on the bed, Kim watched as Maggie climbed out of her crib, onto the bed, and crawled over to me laying her twelve month old head on my chest and stealing my heart forever.

In the moths that followed we carried Maggie everywhere. We held her a lot.

People would say to Kim “she’ll never learn to walk.”

Then again people had said that about Tara when she was a puppy. Despite the warnings Tara had learned to walk fine. So would and so did Maggie.

Maggie was and is amazing.

Every day she would do something that would have us shake our head.

I would give Maggie a big hug every day and tell her how smart she was, how beautiful she was, and how much I loved her.

After a while, Maggie grew out of all that. She would squirm away from hugs and then avoid them altogether. She grew impatient, then angry, when I would say nice things about her. She didn’t like when Kim and I noticed things about her. Then again, she didn’t like when we didn’t notice either.

The first time I was in the cemetery was at Mel’s wedding but the second time, not too many years later, was at his funeral.

I think of him sometimes on Father’s Day. I remember Mel with Clarissa’s daughter. The little girl had a father but during the part of the week that she was with them, Mel was a great parent without the title.

He paid attention to the little girl with intensity. He always seemed to have time for her. I learned a lot about being a dad from Mel.

I learned to pay attention to my kids and they would teach me much of what I needed to know. I love being with my girls. Really being present and just hanging out.

I do miss the hugs. Elena gave great hugs. Then again, who knows. Over the span of the last seven Father’s Days she may have grown out of them like her big sister.

In those same seven years Maggie has grown into so much. She is still so smart. She is still so beautiful.

Today Maggie game me an awesome personal card that she made for me for Father’s Day. It was a card that captured who she is right now in a funny and clever way.

For seven years I’ve spent some part of Father’s Day at the cemetery watching people come to spend a moment or two remembering their dads.

For me, for now, Father’s Day is all about my kids.

Then again, when you’re a dad, everything is.

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 10:13 pm  Comments (4)  


Six years ago today Tara went down hard.

She was a beautiful black lab that we got soon before we got married. She played with and protected our girls. Six years ago today she lay down in the hallway outside Elena’s door.

They say that dogs know.

“Daddy, who’s they?”

“I don’t know baby. Just they. You know, some people.”

In my mind Elena snaps her fingers in both hands at once. She tips back a little sideways with her left hip slightly raised. She holds her fingers like mock revolvers. Index fingers pointed at me. Thumbs up in the air. Remaining fingers curled in.

“Got it, ” she says winking. “Dogs just know.”

I’ve been wondering why things feel harder to deal with this year than the past few. I think it’s because the days of the week are lining up the same way they did it in 2006.

President’s Day Monday was on February 20th then as now. That afternoon Kim took Elena to the doctor. The doctor said nothing was wrong and sent her home. As it turns out, the doctor was probably right. Monday afternoon nothing was wrong.

The next day was Tuesday February 21. Same as this year. Six years ago yesterday Elena went to school along with Maggie. I walked them both. Elena had a great day at school. She and her best friend planned their birthday celebrations. Two days apart and a little over a week away.

Wednesday morning February 22 began with Tara laying outside Elena’s door. Elena found the dollar the tooth fairy left for her for her first missing tooth ever. The perfect dollar.

Elena threw up so we kept her home. She’d just been to the doctor – she was fine. Just something kids got. She’d stay home a day then she’d be fine. If not, we’d take her to the doctor that afternoon.

Tara wasn’t herself all day. She watched over Elena and stayed close all day. When I let Tara outside, she came right back in.

Dogs just know.

We got Tara as a puppy just before we got married. Kim’s dad was helping us get our new house ready to move into. Kim stopped by to help as well. Kim asked if I wanted a dog. I said no, not yet. It turned out that the dog — our dog — needed to be picked up in the next few days.

We signed up for an obedience class. Those classes are as much about training the owner as they are about training the dog. Tara graduated easily. Kim and I barely passed.

Over the years Tara evolved into a wonderful dog who did well with other dogs and people.

So many great moments.

On Kim and my first wedding anniversary I picked up a picnic dinner from our favorite Chinese restaurant, put a twenty foot leash on Tara, and went to pick Kim up from work.

I knew she’d be free. I’d arranged weeks ahead with her supervisor to write fictitious patients on Kim’s schedule. We made up people with problems that would be difficult to diagnose and treat. Kim had looked at her schedule the day before and told me she wouldn’t be home til late.

Tara and I picked her up at 3:30. We knew she’d be free then. We drove out to property that Case Western Reserve University Owned out in the country and had a wonderful picnic. Just the three of us.

Tara was never a substitute for children but weaknesses in out resolve and technique as pet owners certainly foreshadowed mistakes we would make as parents.

Tara welcomed Maggie into our house and a year and a half later she welcomed Elena too.

“Welcomed, daddy? Really?”

“I don’t know, Elena. What would you be turning next week? Thirteen? I may not be remembering whether or not she welcomed you. She certainly benefitted from having you around.”

“What do you mean.”

“Well let’s just say you dropped a lot of food on the ground. Tara always lay next to your or your great grandfather’s chair when we were eating.”

Tara lay near Elena all day long the day she died.

Dogs just know.

After Elena died it seemed that Tara had had a stroke. I needed to carry her up and down the steps every time we needed to let her out or in. She mostly recovered and lived another year and a half but she was never the same.

When she was younger we’d hear her jump off of the couch as we came in the back door. During her final months on earth she didn’t even bother to disguise that she’d been up on the furniture while we were gone.

One afternoon, long after Tara had recovered, she refused to come back in. She’d clearly been out long enough but she wasn’t moving. She was on the ground behind the swing set shivering. I went out to the back yard and picked her up in my arms.

She hardly moved. I brought her in and sat on the ground next to her. I tried to get her to drink a little but she wasn’t responding.

Kim came home and decided to take the dog to the vet.

It was so much like that afternoon six years ago today. I carried Tara to the car and placed her in the back seat. Same car, same seat as the one I’d placed Elena in six years ago today. Last time Elena didn’t make it to the hospital alive. This time Kim had to make the decision to put her down.

Everything from that day six years ago came back for both of us.

We knew we could never replace Elena, Tara was a different matter. Kim checked out the dogs on for weeks before we decided to go up to Michigan to get another black lab. This one is named Anabelle.

It turned out that the dog was half german shorthair and that was the half that determined the way she behaved most of the time.

Today Anabelle was quieter than usual. She didn’t jump on me and ask me to play with her. Mostly she napped in a chair. Now and then she stood up to go outside, eat, or shift positions. Mostly she just napped.

Dogs just know.

Published in: on February 22, 2012 at 9:47 pm  Comments (2)  

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