The other day, my therapist said, “How are you? The last time we talked, your father had just died.”
And I answered, “Well . . . he’s still dead.”
This is totally a dad joke, and he would have laughed. Every time a celebrity died, he would rail against the 24-hour coverage on the news, as if there could be some update. Still dead! And I’m finding myself doing more and more things in tribute to him. If you care to play along, here are some things you could do in tribute to my father:
- Sign something ‘Horace J. Schmiddlapp’. I forget how this first got started. I think he got tired of having to sign endless, useless permission slips for his eight children, so he started signing them ‘Horace J. Schmiddlapp’, and no one ever questioned it. Now that we’re going over legal documents and working through thorny issues of his estate, we’re glad he only took it that far.
- Bring fancy cookies to the people who work at the post office and bank. This was a recent development, but apparently he used to do this every Christmas. I was amazed to hear it. When I was growing up, he cultivated a reputation as a curmudgeon. I guess it goes to show: Just because you used to be one way, doesn’t mean you can’t start bringing people cookies.
- Buy more used books. He sold used books. Bought used books. Lived among so many used books, at one point he started stacking them on the window sills, giving the impression from the outside that inside was just a rising tide of books, which it was. One time, he got an amazing offer for an entire dumpster full of used books. The only catch was, they were in a dumpster because they had been in a fire, and were burned and wet. That dumpster sat in the driveway for a good three months until he admitted that it was a dumb idea. But books! There are still people who make their living this way.
- Bring a kid to a concert — something good you know they’ll enjoy, like The Marriage of Figaro, or something you haven’t heard, like an experimental piece inspired by John Cage, because how will you know if you don’t try it? This is how we ended up sitting through western civilisation’s most sublime works and also some of western civilisation’s most monstrously pretentious garbage. Music is worth going out into the night to pursue. Or if you are home and it’s time for bed, you could take an orchestral score to bed with you and just . . . read it.
- Stop for bagels. If the bagels are good, always stop for bagels. Always know where the good bagels are. The bagels do not represent or symbolise anything. They don’t need to.
- Forgive a debt. The Bank of Abba had very lenient terms. In its founding years, it would make you sweat a bit and feel like a jerk for needing money, but in its later years, it wouldn’t; and either way, it would always come through. If you borrowed money and started to repay in installments, the Bank of Abba would get tired of it and cancel the balance. If you needed an addition built onto your house, the Bank of Abba would straight up pay for it. And if you were a ridiculous teenager and somehow lost giant gobs of cash you were carrying around in a sandwich bag in your swimsuit for some reason, the Bank of Abba would sigh and replace it. The Bank of Abba had been down and out itself, and knew how it felt.
- Read a book to a little kid. Once upon a time, my father was a children’s librarian, and he had a whole little repertoire of guitar singalongs, basic origami, and stories that went along with a map that magically ended up looking like a duck. Most of the little kid work was left to my mother, but he did love to read to children, and he read to my children whenever they asked. He didn’t stop reading to us when we got older, either, and got a good part of the way through The Odyssey and War and Peace. I remember how obnoxious we were, too. I can’t believe he put up with it.
- Do a crossword puzzle in ink. Or play a word game, but accept a heavy handicap because you know so many dang words, words there is no reason to know. Don’t assume it’s a sign of your superior intelligence; but still, know a LOT of words.
- Save your receipts. Save your old teeth. Save everything. But do your kids a favour, and start throwing it out after a few decades.
- Repent. One day when I was young, he came home all flustered because one of those stupid female drivers had flagrantly cut him off in traffic. He responded loudly and profanely, as was his habit at the time. And then, too late, he realised that the woman had cut him off because she was trying to stay with a funeral procession making its way through town. Oh, he felt terrible, but there was nothing he could do.
Fast forward a decade or more, and he came home profoundly sheepish. He said there was this a bank teller who was always cold and brusque with him for no reason at all, and he finally confronted her in irritation: “Listen, you’re always rude to me, and have been for years. Have I done something to offend you?”And she answered, “As a matter of fact, you have. I was driving in a funeral procession and didn’t let you in traffic ahead of me. You leaned out your window and shouted, “NICE DRIVING, S***HEAD!”So . . . he felt terrible all over again. Several years ago, he had repented of his behaviour generally, and then he had to remember his behaviour all over again, but this time face-to-face with the specific person he had injured. And oh, did we laugh at him, and he laughed at himself, too. He had a lot to repent for — worse things than this — and he knew it, even thought he didn’t always get around to apologising. But you know, I think if he had lived to be 100, he would eventually have repented and apologised for everything, generally, specifically, personally, as many times as necessary. You might say, “Well, who wouldn’t?” But no, not everybody would. And not everyone would be willing to laugh at themselves like he did, either.Related article: Simcha Fisher: Words about death