Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Because of My Father III

I woke before 3 a.m. today thinking about how my father hated the Yankees. In the dream I woke up from, Dad was Tweeting with A-Rod about hitting streaks. The remarkable thing about Dad was, he could hate the Yankees but still admire A-Rod when he was going well. Me, I never found a place in my heart for "Mr. April," who never seems to go well in October.

That's the difference between Dad and me, a difference I'd like to bridge in my old age. Christ called it loving your enemies; I'd just call it an immense openness to all comers, an openness to experience—Dad's experience, his kids' and grandkids' experience, life. Dad was for life.

As Dad neared his 75th birthday, which fell eight years, three months, and 21 days before his death, he began planning a party for himself. He found a place for the function and began assembling a list of old friends, then stopped short at entertainment. What to do? He wanted his party to be fun, "not a lot of old fuddy-duddies sitting around staring at each other." So he hired a DJ who would play not only music that young people would enjoy—there were always young people in Dad's life, what with six children, assorted motley in-laws, and eleven grandchildren—but also the big band music of his war and courtship years.

With the DJ signed up Dad started to worry again. What if the old fuddy-duddies didn't tap their feet to the music, didn't sing along, didn't dance? So Dad took the next logical step: He went downtown to a health club, walked in, and struck up a conversation with the receptionist. She was a lovely young woman with the sort of Midwestern wholesomeness Dad found so attractive. He didn't care for floozies. Dad told the young woman about his party, the DJ, the kind of crowd he expected—then he asked her if she would dance at his party.

What he had in mind, he said, talking right past her incredulity, I imagine, was that she would wear a modest but attractive cocktail dress, stand in front of the DJ, and wiggle. It would be even better, he suggested, if she had a friend, a sister, a cousin who could come with her and wiggle too.

Dad loved women, always approaching them with an open but innocent appreciation that I'm sure most found endearing. The young lady agreed to wiggle, and she thought her girlfriend would make two. She and Dad agreed on a price (maybe $100 for the pair) and the deal was done.

The Wigglers were a huge success at Dad's 75th. My four sisters, Katie, and our two daughters joined the two women after dinner to form a big ol' wiggling chorus line, and to judge by the photographic evidence submitted here, Dad and I had a grand time.

My father died a year ago today, on the day when we Catholics honor St. Padre Pio. This morning's Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church was dedicated to his memory. You might wonder what The Wigglers have to do with YIM Catholic. Fair question.

As Dad grew older and settled into retirement and grandfatherhood, he became a beacon of receptive kindness. He made space for each of his children (a motley crew ourselves) to follow our destinies as we saw them. For one of us that meant marrying a Jewish man and having her three sons bar mitzvahed. For another it meant a courageous life as a single woman pursuing a theatrical career in New York City. For yet another it meant Catholicism.

When I told my father I was converting to Catholicism two years ago, his first reaction was that his Methodist mother would roll over in her grave. Four months later, he was present, and proudly, at my first communion and confirmation. Six months later, to the day, he died.

I have 25 years from now until I turn 83, Dad's age at death. I hope that these years, if granted to me, will radiate the same joy, openness, and charity that my father showed in his final years. In fact, I think I will to dedicate these years to his memory, if that makes any sense at all. It seems the least I can do to honor my father, my best male friend, who is now in heaven.

Padre Pio, pray for him.