August 8, 2010

Remembering My Father

Yesterday would have been my father's 82nd birthday. He died in his sleep in 2001, two day after his 73rd birthday. He had chronic health problems probably stemming from smoking 2 packs a day from age 18 to 60. He was really beginning to age the past year or so.

Ever since I moved out of the house at 22, I would speak to him on the phone at least once a day, OK five times a week. I was probably the last to speak to him.

The conversation was about the fact that I saw my horse racing silks were in a Nike commercial (I owned race horses at the time, cheap ones, in partnerships). I don't remember much more about the phone call. It was short though.

There was a heat wave in Toronto at the time. I called him in the morning. No answer. Called him a couple of hours later, still no answer. I was getting concerned. I knew he could have had a doctor's appointment. Going to the store only took a half hour tops.

Another two hours later, I called my sister who was in the area. She went over to his apartment. Knocked on the door. No answer. She kicked the door. Found him dead on his couch. The fan was facing him, he was only in his underwear.

Was the heat getting too uncomfortable for him to sleep in his bed? He didn't mind sleeping on couches. Fell asleep watching TV lots of times on the couch when I was a kid. The TV wasn't on.

His building did have central air, but we were told later there was a power outage temporarily that night.

Me and my wife made it across town within a half hour of finding out. I was the obvious choice to handle all the arrangements. It kept me focused and somewhat less emotional about what happened.

My father loved sports. Always talked about his glory days in high school from basketball to baseball to footfall (not hockey). He said he was even looked at by the Philadelphia Athletics as a baseball prospect, but his mother was dying at the time and he just wouldn't leave Toronto.

I grew up watching the Cleveland Browns and Boston Celtics on TV with him each week. My other brothers didn't have the same interest. His biggest passion though, was the racetrack. Always a $2 bettor, it was his number one hobby. He would go to the track and of course bring me and my siblings along in the mid to late 60's whenever he could.

He was good at it too. Had a slight edge with his system that kept him in action while being able to support a family of 6 on an average wage.

It quit smoking in a weird way. He retired at 59 or 60 and he watched a story on CNN that stated that 95% of illiterates smoke. It was enough to move him to quit. Just like that.

He hardly ever drank. I remember him coming home drunk once. His friends took him out for his 50th birthday.

Another funny thing I remember is when watching old movies with him. He had a habit of saying "He's dead" or "He's a Jew." I can't remember what he said for guys like "Al Jolson" who were both.

Huge Sinatra fan. Had all his records. Played them a lot when I was growing up. Nothing else. Just Sinatra.

As for his religious beliefs. He was a non practicing believing Jew. The only time I saw the inside of a synagogue was for Bar Mitvahs or funerals.

We never really spoke about God. I do remember him saying "there has to be something else" many times. Also, when his sister died, he kept saying that the wind that came at a certain time was a sign from her.

I also remember a conversation later on in life where it gave me the impression he thought that the whole dinosaurs living millions of years ago was some sort of hoax. But I never pursued that with him. I really don't know what he thought.

He died at a time when I was just evolving from agnostic to atheist. Years before I started up this blog. I wonder what he would think about it. Especially my posts on the Exodus being a made up story.

I don't even know if he accepted evolution.

One other thing comes to mind. I remember I was somewhere between 5 to 7, watching a black and white Western on our black and white TV. I had a revelation at the time that the people the actors were portraying were most likely all dead. I asked my father what happens when we die (I was the first born, so the question caught him off guard). I remember he was visibly uncomfortable and deferred the question to my mother. I got the heaven answer soon. But I do remember I was uncomfortable over the hesitation.

And there was the time that I was taking crash course Bar Mitvah lessons. My father who would have been in his mid 40's at the time, asked my tutor if all Jews believed in the afterlife. He received a very hesitant ambiguous answer. Made me more skeptical too.

In retrospect, I'm actually really thankful I wasn't subject to brain washing that I'm sure many grow up with. What would I believe right now if those around me were certain about God and heaven?

Back to my father. There hasn't even been a moment where I thought that he is in heaven watching me or waiting for me. Not even a split second.

I'm reminded of him a lot, and often wonder how he would have reacted to some things. He died just before 9/11. I'm sure he would have a lot to say about that.