Toward the end of his life, one of my heroes, George Bernard Shaw, was asked what person in history he would most like to have been. His response was that he would most like to have been the George Bernard Shaw he might have been, and never became.
Like Mr. Shaw, most of us would like to offer the world our best selves – we wonder if we could have given more — to our family, to our community, to ourselves. Many of us wish we would have more vigorously pursued our curiosity, embraced our individuality, and been bolder and braver about challenging our bodies, our minds and hearts.
One of my heroes, Robert Feldman, needn’t have had any of those regrets.
My dad gave a lot and did a lot. He cared about helping others and making a difference, and it wasn’t just lip service. He was a volunteer most of his adult life. I remember when I was little he tutored struggling students at a local junior high, and demonstrated his commitment to community in so many ways, from coaching Little League to working at a switchboard hotline, helping senior citizens with questions and problems.
He was always comfortable with who he was, at ease being himself. He was never afraid to let his freak flag fly, and while that could be mortifying to adolescent me, it is something I grew to admire and appreciate. (And some might say, emulate.) His curiosity and enthusiasm were evident to me by the way he pursued all kinds of interests and activities. He took horseback riding; he mastered karate; he became ardent about Southwestern art and 19th century antiques; and his inner Ray Bolger was always lurking right beneath the surface.
Dad loved being a dad; he got a kick out of young kids. After all, they’re cute, curious, obedient, and will believe just about anything you tell them. Being a dad was also a bully pulpit – and sure, sometimes accent on bully. But though I may have had an irritating mind of my own and may not have always done everything he said, I hope dad knows I was always, always listening. Even when I wasn’t standing at attention, I was always paying attention. To this day, I can recite by heart every story, poem, old joke, song lyric, monologue…accent on heart.
I remember and cherish them all, because I’m old enough to know, and smart enough to appreciate, that while lots of people have a dad, and the world is littered with daddies, baby daddies, and “old mans”, I was lucky enough to have a father.
People sometimes ask me if I “take after” my father. I’m not his biological daughter, so there’s no physical resemblance (though as I age I may be catching up in the facial hair department). But I do like a funny story, I do like to Lindy, I do love antiques and old movies, and if you look real close you’ll find a strong resemblance in the tender heart area.
My father’s gone now, but now is when the taking after really kicks in. After him, I hope to take Dad’s humor, his kindness, his generosity, and his abiding interest in people and places. I take them and I’ll have them always.
So with inexpressible gratitude, this Monday I will tell my father “Goodnight” for the last time. I will also whisper “I love you, Dad.” But it will not be the last time.