Rollerblading Into the Sunset
My eulogy to my dad at his memorial on 4/9/17.
When I was five years old my dad taught me how to rollerblade. We had gone rollerblading before that, but he had just held me in his arms, which if you want to think of something cute think about my young handsome dad, sporting all neon, his favorite color, which is why I’m wearing it today, carrying me as he zoomed down the bike path in Santa Monica. He took me to Debbie Merrill’s class in Venice. This was the early 90’s and my dad was the hippest most style conscious man around, (obviously this never changed), so we were going to the best. According to Debbie’s yelp she taught Christopher Meloni, Steve Martin and our current president. The first thing I learned in Debbie’s class was how to fall. When rollerblading, to fall correctly, you fall on your knees and then on your wrists, all padded up of course. My dad watched as I fell over and over. To learn how to fall correctly, I would repeatedly have to do it. I remember going up to him and begging to stop, but he refused. He wanted me to learn how to fall. He later told me it was the hardest thing he had to do to watch the people you love hurt themselves over and over. But he would not let me leave until I learned to fall correctly. And I did. This moment defined who my dad was, disciplined, emotional, and unafraid to sport some neon.
Rollerblading became our sanctuary. No matter how tumultuous things were between us we always found peace on the stretch of bike path between Venice and Malibu. It’s apt that when we discovered my dad’s cancer was the last time we went rollerblading. It was Father’s Day 2014. We were both obviously wearing neon yellow and my dad was having trouble keeping up with me as we skated the rose bowl. My dad was always able to outpace me, but he was incredibly winded. He had struggled with pneumonia earlier in the year and we didn’t know what was holding him back. Later, after a biopsy we learned he had lung cancer. It felt like such a betrayal to me. My dad and I had loved each other fiercely, but often contentiously and in 2014 I felt like we were finally in sync. Now I was losing him?
But, what followed was a journey for both of us. I went with my dad as he had part of his lung removed. And after when he had chemo, I happened to be unemployed and went with him to every session. It was an important time that we got to spend together. We got to know the nurses at the hospital. Watched the TV series Fargo and really got to spend some quality time together. And even at the end he would make jokes at the hospital. Any time someone asked who was president he would say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Or “I wish it was Obama’s third term.” During the last few years, I learned to appreciate my dad in all his complexity.
If you didn’t know him my dad was a man of great contradictions. A man who grew up fighting bullies, but as an adult used his brain to solve other people’s emotional problems. A man of taste who’s favorite drink was Schramsberg champagne and who’s other favorite drink was orange soda. He loved Eminem and the musical Legally Blonde with enough fervor to make both his ringtones. He was a man who loved Dr. Strangelove, but also loved the movie Burlesque without irony. He was the perfect mix of high and low art. But there was something that he was consistent about and that is his love for me.
He wanted me to know that I was special and loved no matter what was happening. If he was going through a divorce, if he had changed careers, or if he was feeling lonely I always knew he was my ally and champion. He pushed me to the best version of myself… sometimes a little too hard. But he believed in me as a writer, as a comedian and instilled in me sense of passion and work ethic that has spurred me on. He wanted me to have the things he didn’t have when he was growing up. He took me to Paris when I turned 18 because he wanted me to have that experience. Dad and I went to Hawaii when he got sick and we of course went to his favorite place to shop the outlet stores. I want everyone here to know that I have never really enjoyed shopping at the outlet stores, but it brought so much joy to my dad that I tried to never refuse an offer to go to Camarillo.
There are a lot of things I already miss about him and honestly; I’m having a hard time believing he’s actually gone. He keeps showing up in my dreams telling me that he’s not dead and the hospital made a mistake. This is a quintessential Howard Wax response, but I think it may wishful thinking on my part.
I’m going to miss the fact that my dad had no filter and no shame. He would tell you exactly what he was thinking and do outrageous things regularly without a second thought. When I started doing improv he would come to my shows, sit in the first row, and when I asked for suggestions yell, “yogurt sluts of Encino.” It was embarrassing and hilarious at the same time. I’m going to miss having thoughtful discussion with him about death, love, and religion. My dad was an explorer and embraced so many faiths. He was the only BuJewMo I know. That’s Buddhist, Mormon, Jew for the uninitiated. He always had answers to big questions and I could always go to him for advice. I’m going to miss how he made little things special. My dad believed in beauty and color. He believed in making everything from my birthday to a Tuesday night dinner at chipotle elevated. A heightened version of itself.
I think what I’m going to miss the most though is that I won’t be able to share experiences with him anymore. We won’t enjoy Hamilton together and talk for hours about the brilliance of Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyrics. We won’t go to Big Sur together, for my first time, but I will go with my mom to spread his ashes. We won’t end up in India on a huge country tour like we had talked about. His biggest wish. He always wanted to end up in Pondicherry and visit the Hindu temple. I want to do these things because he cannot and I hope that when I do he is with me and has these experiences through me.
I loved my dad very much. He made me laugh. He made me a better person. And now I feel like I’m falling. I know he’s not there to pick me up, but I pray that he’s watching and just like when I was five he’s waiting for me to fall right and then learn to stand tall together.