If my memory of my early childhood is correct, he separated from my sister and me and my mother soon before I turned four. Soon after he left our home, he and my mother put a new bicycle under the Christmas tree for me. (Yes, we had Christmas in our home, as well as Jewish holidays, as my mother was raised as an Episcopalian.) That bike -- a Schwinn -- had a huge influence on me. My father had wanted a Schwinn when he was a kid, so he gave one to me.
My father came over on weekends to teach me to ride. On every lesson day, we wheeled the bike to Riverside Park which was just across the street. We used a dumbbell wrench to remove the training wheels. Then I had my lesson. Then I insisted on putting the training wheels back on after each lesson. This made my father chuckle, but but he humored me.
If you know me, you know how much I came to love cycling. My father didn't care for it much in his adult life. He liked to play tennis and squash, and he was quite good at them. We took a ride together once, when I was 19. We were going through a rough period with each other, and we saw a counselor to help us get closer. The counselor recommended we do something together that I liked to do, so I chose a bike ride. I had a spare bike to let him use. It had toe clips, which he had never used. And the end of the ride had a tough uphill, but he managed. I remember in the middle of the ride (which was in Boston), we stopped in the park by the Charles river and sat on the bench overlooking the river. It was a pleasant moment, perhaps the beginning of our getting closer.
I've ridden a lot, and I made my living as a bicycle mechanic when I was in college, and I am grateful for my father giving me that love.
Another thing he gave me was music. He used to play guitar and sing to us. I remember some songs he taught himself that he had learned from a Leon Bibb album. I remember "John Hardy" which was about the struggles of an outlaw who had a wife who still loved him. He also sang "John Henry" about the legendary railroad man who didn't care for the steam drill. He said he would beat the steam drill in a contest, and he did, but he died doing so.
I might be updating this entry of the blog, adding to it. Look for changes here or to the comments attached to it.
Email me if you want to know about the funeral arrangements. I don't yet know what day it will be.
I've already received a lot of messages of condolence. Here are some particularly touching messages:
Losing a person who has been chronically ill in body and/or mind has it's own particular emotions and conflicting feelings.
I never had the honor of meeting you dad, obviously, but considering how the "chip off the old block" turned out (you); he must have been pretty cool. Your pain is now a measure of that deep love you shared, and his memory will indeed be a blessing.
Take comfort in that he has a son who really appreciates what it is to be a father.