Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on November 21, 2012
I guess when you’ve just found out that you need heart surgery and you’ve already gone through three wrestling matches with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma over the past umpteen years, you do what you’ve always done to take back some control. You pay your bills. You listen to your music. You make lists of questions to ask the doctors. That’s what Dad was doing when I called him yesterday morning.
My father is a master list-maker, a crafter of itineraries, a planner extraordinaire, yup, a leave-nothing-to-chance kind of guy.
So, on this eve of Thanksgiving, with his upcoming heart surgery that will, we hope, fix a bum valve that’s causing 50 percent of his heart to slack off, rather than to work, I’ve decided to channel my inner Gene; I’ve decided that I’d better make a list.
* * *
I am thankful for a father who needs a ladder to reach the top shelves of his wall-to-wall library of books, a father who, when I was maybe seven or eight, pulled out a giant white board and drew the electoral college map on it, deciding it was time that his kin knew how the heck this election stuff worked, a father who invited each of the children to report on current events articles over dinner, a father who socked away plenty of cash to pay for his children’s education.
I am thankful for a father who escorts his grandchildren to Barnes & Noble and buys them each a book and a giant cookie, who signs them up for golf clinics and for tennis clinics and who has introduced them to the Saint Andrews Country Club buffet, to overflowing plates of desserts, to build-your-own sundaes with M&Ms.
I am thankful for a father who has guided me to the beauty of classical music, who, as a wedding present, handed us a subscription to the Saint Louis Symphony, a father who seemed to always be awake on the couch listening to Mozart, even at 2 am, when I would tiptoe down the steps, needing him to be right there.
I am thankful for a father who is still astounded that I, his youngest daughter, have not yet been nominated as head of the U.S. Department of Education or been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a father who believes either (or both) may still happen to me. I am thankful for a father who keeps a file of all the pieces that I’ve ever written, who always reads my work and posts comments like, “the best”, who says he wishes that there were more like me in the world, for a father who reminds me, again and again, that I have talent.
I am thankful for a father who spends his retirement writing books about Christianity, about Judaism, about the Holocaust, about our family, volumes that we will cling to long after he is gone, for a father who teaches music to crowds of elder adults, crowds who applaud and cherish him, for a father who knows that I still expect to have movie dates, just me and him, even if they just happen twice a year, for a father who tagged the email detailing the upcoming surgery, “Ya Gotta Have Heart.”
I am thankful for a father who took me to Lincoln Center, to R-rated movies, to the Metropolitan Opera, to the Guggenheim, to Broadway, for knowing that, somehow, being the only kid in the crowd was okay, even great, and for never seeming upset or disappointed when I fell asleep midway through the expensive concerts. “The music was so beautiful,” he would say, “Perfect for sleeping.” I am thankful for a father who asks why, in the snapshots I send, I look even younger than my own children.
I am thankful for a father who flew with us to Israel and to Jamaica, to Saint Maarten and to England, who taught us the value of marriage and of sticking together, who taught me to drive and who laughed along with me when I refused to pass the “Slow Moving Vehicle” on the highway, for a father who showed us that with hard work and with focus a person can, in fact, fly from 1675 Lincoln Place in wrong-side-of-the-tracks-Brooklyn to life on a golf course in Boca Raton, for a father who would always remind us, “You’re a Solomon and that means something.”
I am thankful for a father who wrote long, handwritten letters on yellow legal pads to me while I was at Michigan or during my semester in Italy, and who was the proudest parent in the audience on the afternoon I graduated with a master’s degree from Harvard, for a father who encouraged me to head to the best, even though other schools were offering sweet financial deals.
I am thankful for a father who studied law on crowded subway trains, working during the day, attending law school at night, so that he could work his way to an easier place for himself and for his soon-to-be-born family, who, as an adult, took swim lessons and learned to play the piano, who, as a Holocaust scholar, never, ever, ever would let us forget the complexity and the horror.
I am thankful for a father who is unafraid to talk about death, who speaks lightheartedly about the mausoleum that he’s purchased for himself and Mom, who jokes about the pig’s valve that doctors may use to mend his heart (and how his Kosher-keeping mother would’ve felt about that one), for a father who thinks there should be a mandatory course where everyone sits around and talks about death and dying rather than ignoring the inevitable, for a father who shares his Patron coffee liqueur with me, along with the rest of the booze in his well-stocked cabinet.
* * *
There’s more to write, but the house is only quiet for so long around here, so before I decide to wait, to delay, to perfect, I will, instead, just be finished. Maybe I should have written all of this to him during his first bout with cancer. Or during his second. Or during his third. But I never did. I’m just thankful, tonight, that I’m not too late.