James B. M, 4/13/28 - 1/11/13My dad died on Friday.
We all know, from the time we figure out how this journey ends, that if all goes well, our parents will die first. And then when they get sick with something that is a one-way street to death, well, it pretty much clinches it. But still.
My father was an exceptional man. He was remarkable in that he had no ego in the race, no need to compete. He had the ability to marvel and be impressed by those around him, and never needed to show off, or remind anyone of his own considerable accomplishments or talents.
He was really quiet and calm, and didn't say anything at all unless he had something to say. He would let silences extend indefinitely. For people new to this style, it could be unnerving, but it was peaceful, and you knew to listen if he opened his mouth. He had integrity and humility and an amazing, hilarious, and completely understated sense of humor, and I'll miss him.
When I was in college, he used to write letters to me occasionally, and they were just like his conversations -- brief, to the point, interesting, funny. I remember one that said,
I just learned that there are more Catholics in Rochester, NY than there are Unitarians world-wide. I don't know whether to be smug or alarmed.
DadHe was always calm and unruffled. When I was about 16 and growing pot in my bedroom, upon discovering it, he said, "Wow, we really admire your interest in botany. Would you be willing to grow plants that are legal?"
It was the perfect response, and I often tried to summon that moment in my own parenting. To find the underlying good in the presenting behavior, and to appreciate my kids for their essential goodness rather than getting distracted by their behavior.
My dad was a pediatrician and devoted his life to supporting families and children by giving calm advice, putting in long hours, and doing house calls well after most physicians had stopped doing that. He was a reassuring presence in the lives of many families.
He believed that when you die, that's it. Any after-life occurs in the way you endure in the memories of the people you've touched, and the ways that people change based on encountering you. He will live for a long time through the grace, gentleness, humility, humor, and integrity he brought into the world.