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Our Intertwined Lives

by Ferida Wolff

It’s hard to assess a life. We are intertwined with so many other lives that it is almost impossible to tease out the threads that we can claim as our own. Our parents, in particular, have a strong effect on us. We may not be able to understand it until a parent passes away, as my father did recently.

This influence starts even before birth. For instance, I was supposed to be a Buick. When my father came home on furlough from the army during World War II he told my mother that he planned to buy a car when he was discharged. But my mother became pregnant. She sent a note to my father that said, Bye, bye Buick. This would be their second child; they already had a three-year-old girl. Dad was stoic about it. “If I can’t have a Buick,” he said, “at least I can have a son.”

I was supposed to be his son. Only I was another daughter. No car and now no son. I don’t know if that programmed me because I shared a lot of my father’s interests that a son might have. I helped him with his home improvement projects, holding the boards that he sawed for studs and steadying the panels as he nailed up wallboard. My friends had to go to the corner store to buy chalk but I always had a supply of wallboard chalk- it worked great for drawing potsy grids. I thought a toolbox was the greatest toy and spent hours admiring the gadgets I found inside.

Dad loved to play with words. He was a walking dictionary. My sister and I knew about glutes way before the fitness craze kicked in. He did crossword puzzles by the Buick-load, a pastime I also came to enjoy. Words appealed to him. They did to me, too. They still do. Using words became my career.

But Dad was a multi-faceted man and had lots of skills I didn’t share. He was good with numbers; I am definitely math-challenged. He liked to say that he paid everyone’s salary when he worked in the comptroller’s office for the City of New York. He was an artist whereas I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. He went to Pratt Institute for two years and later painted for his own pleasure. As a caterer, his alternate occupation, he made parties for hundreds of people; I get nervous having a house party for ten.

There was something about Dad that attracted people. Yes, he was handsome and had a sense of humor. But he was also a task-master at work and at home. He was a careful man, some might say a perfectionist, someone who would get the job done right, but he wasn’t always easy. And yet, everyone liked him.

Dad eventually retired from one activity after another. He and Mom came up from their condo in Florida to live in New Jersey near his daughters. They moved into an assisted living residence. People liked him there, too. Mom soon passed away, however, and Dad continued on. One day, when we were paging through a family photo album, I asked him if he was disappointed that I wasn’t a son. He looked at me surprised and said, “You are the best son I never had…and a wonderful daughter.” It pleased me to hear that I hadn’t disappointed him for all these years though he wasn’t a man to show it.

As the years passed, his words became fewer and his interactions less but he was still an integral part of his residential community. When he passed away it was as if a celebrity had died. There was a steady stream of people coming to his room to pay respects. Residents and staff alike would come up to my sister and me to tell us their memories of him. One of the dining room servers remembered the early days when Dad helped her serve coffee to the other residents. He would tell them jokes and make them laugh. His next-door neighbor remembered his wonderful smile.

At his funeral, I heard people tell of their own experiences with my father. I saw other sides of him, one more loving than what my sister and I had known, and it was as if I was being introduced to him once again.

Who knows how we affect people in our lifetime. It obviously isn’t just through our words or actions, because Dad eventually lost the ability for both, but it must be some mystical, indefinable, inner quality we possess. Whatever it was about Dad that attracted people he left an impression on many. I am just beginning to see, perhaps to admit, his imprint on me.

©2010 Ferida Wolff for Seniorwomen.com

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