My father dies, but not before giving me the gift of home
I looked out at the Hudson River from his room at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia, his body lying next to me. The gray weather. The awful, post-stroke writhing finally over after a few horrible days. I thought so many things, including that he had managed to die in a town he loved. Oh, and what a great view.
My father died two months ago on Oct. 1.
He was not my â€œdad. We never used that word. We called him Papa, but that feels wrong in print. Here we will favor the term father, a good old decent word for a good old decent man. He was sharp, cynical and usually right about what was wrong with America. He traded Ohio for the East. He was a fine high school teacher, an even better parent and someone who shared my interests in everything from politics to theater. He was conservative in his personal behavior, believing in traditional virtues like classical literature and getting your chores done. He was liberal politically, saying he stopped voting Republican after really learning to read.
He was one of three or four people who actually listened to how my day had gone. On bad days since Oct. 1, losing that has felt like losing way too much. He was 81, but I got tired fast of answering the age question's I know those who ask are just adding up how many years they have left. Yes, that sounds cranky. My other pet peeves: â€œdied is better than â€œpassed away and I never want to see another sympathy card again.
Along with my mother, my father gave me the great gift of New York City. I was raised in New Jersey, where there"s a weird divide. Some people traipse regularly into this wacky town; others would never think of leaving Summit, N.J., for an afternoon in Midtown. My father traipsed, even during the city"s more difficult days. On his way out the door to catch a train, he would cheerfully announce to my mother: â€œI need some money for the mugger.
He rode the subways. He championed them. He told suburbanites, both his students and anyone who would listen, that the city was a citadel of culture. In some of the most beautiful places in the country, surrounded by a beach or a gorgeous landscape, someone might mention the dream of living in such a spot. â€œIt"s awfully far from Lincoln Center, he would say, underscoring yet again his own personal quality-of-life test.
He said this for decades. He lived it, too. After years of working and building lives in New Jersey, he and my mother returned to this city, where they had met. They chose a Riverdale co-op. There was an express bus from them to Lincoln Center.
One week after he died, on Oct. 8, I spread his ashes around New York City. Maybe I tossed a few bits of Papa close to the Metropolitan Opera or perhaps I worried instead about the legality of such a move. You decide. Either way, we think of him when my partner and I walk about the plaza, touring our adopted hometown or heading to last month"s opening night of â€œLa BohÃ¨me.
Years ago, on the night of another Lincoln Center performance, my father and I were eating dinner at a now-defunct Greek restaurant. I mentioned a building where I wanted to live, the Masters Apartments, where I"m sitting and writing this now. He said he had lived once in the same structure. Was he just having a senior moment? No, he was right. When he died, I found a piece of his stationery from his one-year stay at 310 Riverside Dr. During his time there's here, really's he studied at a Columbia University program, wrote letters for academic journals and The New York Times and enjoyed music and theater. He thrived. He first fell for New York from what later become my perch.
Across the decades, we found the same home.
Christopher Moore is a writer who lives in Manhattan. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter (@cmoorenyc).
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