Kim and I rose to speak at the end of the funeral yesterday. I had asked our friend Mark Ribbins if he’d be willing to finish reading what I’d written if I was unable to. Mark, like so many others, has been such a great friend for so many years. We did readings at each others’ weddings. Having him behind me and so many wonderful friends in front of me and Kim beside me gave me an unexpected strength to get through the piece without breaking down.
I had joked to Kim that maybe we should just wing it. She said that I could if I wanted, while giving me a look that clearly said “what are you thinking.” When Kim and I were first married, we both were working and in graduate school. My side gig was working as a radio d.j. – or as we were called by then “air personality”.
I’d worked for so many radio stations under so many different names that when I had to introduce musicians or a comic onstage at a concert event I would have everything written on a note card. I’d even write the name I was working under: “I’m xxxx from Wyyy”. This made sense when I was working under names that were not my own. But it looked pretty silly that I had to write my own name down at the end when I was using it on the air. But, I didn’t want to get on stage and not remember who I was.
Who I was.
People get to know you in different ways. There are people who used to listen to me at night who had a connection to my voice. For some it’s as if you are inviting this person on the radio into your house. You are trusting them to hang with you in the morning or at work or when you are getting ready for bed at night.
I was at a health club years ago and a guy came up to me in the locker room and asked “Didn’t you used to be Daniel Steinberg?” I smiled and said yeah that’s who I was.
Who I was.
Gary Raymont, Elena’s kindergarten teacher, spoke at the funeral yesterday. He never called parents by their first name. He always called out “Hi Elena’s mom” and “Hi Elena’s dad”. To him, that’s who we were. Gary is a giant of a man whose heart is too big for the body that holds it. You see the light all around him wherever he walks.
It didn’t take me much time to let the guy in the health club know that I’m still Daniel Steinberg. The community of people who have called and written to us have reminded me that I’m still Elena’s dad. Thank you.
More than twenty years ago, Mark Ribbins and I worked in Urban Contemporary radio together. I began working there under the name of Mac Johnson – the name of a childhood friend. Carol Ford began refering to me as “Vanilla Fudge” but people didn’t catch on. They just thought I was light skinned. So it was shortened to “Fudge”. I teamed up with Matt Morgan to do the morning show and Mark did the weekend gospel show. His family owned a very prominent Christian book store. He thought that we should all do a show together with his brother John and with Luke Owens so that we could call it “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Fudge”.
Mark’s dad died while we were working together. It was one of the first wakes I’d ever been to. The line was out the door. It was there I first met his family. When I got to the front of the church Mark said, “mom, this is Fudge.” More than twenty years later Mark stood in line at a wake for my family. He and his wife Celeste are a part of our family. They are constants at our Passover table. They invited my parents to their wedding.
I knit a baby hat for his daughter Julia but had not yet met her. I finally went over to Mark and Celeste’s home to drop off the hat. The baby wasn’t there but Mark and I went for a walk and talked about her and so many other things. He said that it wouldn’t be long before baby Julia would be asking the four questions at our table.
The four questions. With Elena’s reading coming along lately, this was the year I had hoped she would be able to read that portion of the Passover Seder. So many little things will give us pause this year.
There were many times during the wake that I looked up because I felt someone’s presence in line. One of those was when Mark and Celeste walked in. I felt their hug long before they made it to the front of the line. And they brought us a gift. Mark was carrying their baby Julia.
She’s beautiful. She’s perfect. Meeting her was a gift that brightened Kim and me. Even in this difficult time, being a dad is just the best. I love that I can share this experience with such a great friend.