Ten days ago today I was in Southern California, along with my sister, and we held my Dad’s hands as he slipped away and shed his mortal coil. He was 84 and his health had been gradually declining in the last few years, particularly his ever-decreasing heart strength. Ultimately, it was a deadly cocktail of congestive heart failure, leukemia, a blood clot and kidney failure that finally closed the last chapter of his life.
He basically fell asleep Friday night and never woke up again, floating on a sea of morphine administered by the angels that are hospice care. It was all very sudden too: Tuesday of that week Dad drove himself to hospital complaining of aches in his leg and chest, ended up in hospital for two days, and came back already assigned to hospice care.
In many ways my Dad lived out the American dream in a way that few immigrants seem to be able to do nowadays: He – and my Mum – were both born to very modest households in the East End of London, and they were both evacuated during the Blitz when the Germans rained down V2 rockets and buzz bombs on civilian targets in England.
Later, Dad dreamed of being an architect but his father – a cab driver – was paranoid that if Dad applied for college that they’d be audited and my grandfather’s unclaimed cab fares would be found and taxed. So that was a non-starter and instead of architecture, my Dad fell into driving a London cab, something for which he had to study for three years to demonstrate “The Knowledge”, a required encyclopedic knowledge of every route and landmark in the entire city.
He and Mum married in 1952, she was a hairdresser and the family legend is that they were set up on a blind date and Mum didn’t particularly like Dad, but he kept hanging around (think My Fair Lady) until her Dad — my other grandfather — told her to get rid of him, which she did by agreeing to another date. They were married 58 years and loved each other every day, even if they often seemed to communicate purely by bickering and sniping at each other.
Mum’s sister Phyllis married a handsome American serviceman and moved to New York, and she would constantly write to Mum and Dad about the “streets paved with gold” and the “land of opportunity”. So one day after a particularly unprofitable shift driving cheap fares around London, my Dad came home and said “Right. Let’s move to America. Okay?” and my Mum said “Okay.” I was 9mo old and my sister was almost 6. We got on the Queen Mary and took the long journey across the Atlantic and landed on the shores of New York City, to live in New York for the next eight years.
My Dad changed professions as part of that trip — with some help from his more artsy brothers, the twins Tony and Alan — and got a job in the type and document layout industry. He started out bluffing his way in but quickly gained a great knowledge of typography (even to the point of designing a typeface called Sybilla after Mum) and become a beloved columnist in the trade publication Type World, and a celebrity judge for type design and document design competitions.
Meanwhile, my sister had graduated, joined the Army and been stationed in South Korea, moved to Arizona with her first husband, and then up to Alaska, and I’d gone to college, met my future wife and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Mum & Dad continued to enjoy the fruit of their mutual work lives, taking many cruises and trips around the world, as us children found our own successful lives.
Mum and Dad were great grandparents, not meddling in our lives — even when they wanted to! — and respecting our own choices as parents, even when they were perhaps a bit peculiar or poorly thought through. Yeah, I admit it. Parenting’s an education. Every time we’d visit them my children would be delighted to see Nana and Papa, and they traveled out to visit us a number of times in Colorado as Mum’s health would permit.
Three years ago my Mum passed away after a lingering illness that had plagued her health since before I was born. Hospice helped the last few weeks of her journey not be about care logistics but it was still extraordinarily difficult and those last few months were heartbreaking as she gritted her teeth and tried to make it through yet another painful day and night.
It broke my Dad’s heart, but Judi and I rallied around and subsequently would call him almost every single day to check in and remind him that even if we weren’t in California, he was still in our thoughts and hearts. I took my kids out to visit at least once yearly and would also travel out by myself once or twice each year, combining business and family.
And so, after a thousand phone calls and many visits, after years of his health slowly declining, it was time for my Dad to rejoin Mum in heaven. He passed away on November 2, 2014.
I miss him every day and there’ll always be a place in my heart with his name on it.
God bless you, Dad.