My dad died 15 years ago yesterday.
He came down with Parkinson and diabetes just as I was finishing school in 1981. That very long summer, from May to September, I got a job at the company he’d begun working for a few years earlier, a big computer consultancy, and had the fun of commuting to work with him. He was getting gentler, becoming a better listener. Gone were the days when we hadn’t seen eye to eye on anything. He’d fought my teenagedom tooth and nail. The summer I was 18 all that was no longer an issue, and I realized how similar we were.
Soon after I left home that fall he was fired because he regularly fell asleep on the job. But his colleagues stood up for him, and his dismissal was converted into early retirement, with a disability pension.
So my mother and he got very lucky. They were able to enjoy the second half of the 1980s and the early 90s together in retirement, doing volunteer work and part-time jobs and spending more and more time on Drummond. Some time, it must have been in 1991 or 1992, they moved up there year round. Larry, Mike and Adam helped them move. I was busy starting my museum career and getting to know Helmut, and saw my parents only once a year. Helmut and I got married after two years in love, relatively soon, in effect because I wanted him to meet my father as my husband. They loved each other. I’ll never forget Helmut carrying him upstairs. A year later dad was gone.
When I think of my father I see individual scenes. In Washington: Him in his home office all those years, running his own company from home, with his Wang computer. Him with his rotary printing press, printing off flyers for the various associations he was involved in. Him watering the roses. Him cooking. Him at the clavicord. Him leading Gregorian chant as the cantor at early morning mass (the only time slot granted him) with about 5 parishioners. Him reading Scientific American. Him refusing to throw out 35 years worth of National Geographic. Him laughing about wonderfully silly jokes until the tears came. Him burying one of the dogs, and almost breaking his back over it. Him looking dapper in a grey suit and a pink shirt.
On Drummond: Him at his beloved Macintosh, creating the Latin font he called “Roma”. Him in boats. Him standing silently in the water, looking out. Him defending the trees against my mother’s perpetual wish for a better view of the lake. Him falling asleep over his reading. At the end, him watching the Pope on TV.
He’d converted to Roman Catholicism in 1945 when he came to Germany and saw the cathedrals and met my mother’s family, a scientist who actually believed that Mary had risen to heaven body and soul. We still know so little about what is possible, he would say. We had to get a grip on our emotions, he believed, and think logically. That was actually a huge bone of contention between us, and I studied philosophy for a year or so to try to work out where I stand with regard to the emotions. He was interested in everything connected with learning, a big fan of Martin Gardner and reading everything to do with how the brain works, and I sometimes feel him very close when I’m working.
How I would love to meet him again and pick up where we left off.