Happy Birthday—and, Goodbye—Dad

As my dad approached his 75th birthday in March 2005, I wrote to thank him for being my father and friend. It was my first letter to my father since December 1992, when I formally came out to him. Nine months later, just 48 hours after his death and unable to write a eulogy or to compose myself without bawling with tears, I instead would re-read that final letter to the small group we invited. Even 12 years later, I still think about how my father shaped—and continues to shape—my life.


Dear Dad,

A milestone birthday is a time for reflection — not just for the celebrant but also for his or her loved ones. The occasion of your 75th birthday is certainly no exception, and I am very happy that this time finds us together sharing this achievement of longevity. This note conveys ever-so briefly what you mean to me as a father and a friend.

I’ve lived a wonderfully charmed life, and I have you and Mom to thank for that good fortune. Your marriage has taught me about respect, love, and humility, though the latter is not something that I always display outwardly. Your professional life has taught me the essence of the true liberal values that should be cherished: tolerance, treating everyone equally, and recognizing (or at least trying to recognize) the good even in those with whom you vehemently disagree.

You’ve raised a selfish, stubborn, garrulous, arrogant child with whom you’ve had your share of disagreements and arguments over the years. Try as I may to deny this, I think that our relationship is so intense because we are both very similar in our outlook on life. We both think we’re right about everything, neither of us is a good listener, and we both love to hear ourselves talk. That certainly is a recipe for conflict, and over the years we’ve had our share of run-ins, but in reflecting on all those “fights” (if that’s what the outside world would call them), I am thankful for each and every incident, because I am lucky to have had a relationship with you that goes far beyond father and son and verges on one of siblings or best buddies. And, to put the icing on the cake, I am a better, happier person when you’re around and when I have a chance to gab about everything and nothing with you (notwithstanding the times when we’ve nearly come to blows on politics and even forced Mom to walk out of a restaurant in disgust at your — ok, our — behavior).

The one constant in my life is that you and Mom have been there for me. From the highs of winning the state football championship and to graduating from North Carolina, to the lows of having to endure life in Missouri for five years and [name redacted]’s near-death experience, to that time more than 12 years ago when I last wrote you a letter — on the occasion of my acknowledging for the first time openly who I am. No matter what, you and Mom have been there to share each and every moment with me and to accept me for who I am. And, because of that, I’ve been able to live a healthy life in which I hope that I have found something as rock solid and as lasting as you and Mom have.

As I turned 35 last December, the joy in my life was somewhat tempered by the disappointment that I have that I haven’t accomplished more.

However, each time I think that I have failed myself, I think of what your decisions have taught me — to live life for now and not for some future that may never come. You could have made much more money in your life — enough that would make your golden years more comfortable than they are now. But, if you had done so, I would have been robbed of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in my life: time spent with you at Nets, Giants, and Devils games; vacations in Cape Cod, Florida, and elsewhere (and my memorable sicknesses on the trips); long driving trips during which the family bonded together (who could forget 477 Bull Street or my soap “football injury” in Daytona Beach); and everything else that we’ve done. I wouldn’t trade any amount of cash for the experiences we’ve enjoyed together.

Of course, I still don’t forgive you for making me miss the Nets first home playoff game or selling my ticket to the first Super Bowl for the Giants, and I remember vividly being “chased down the street,” your going ballistic on a trip to see a Mets game because I had “broken” the seat belt, and not speaking to you for several days because of some slight that I can no longer even remember.

But time has made me recall these experiences fondly, because they complete the whole — they complete me. To me, you’re neither Clark Kent nor Superman with a capital “S.” You’re just a man. But, to this 35-year-old kid, you are a super man, a super father, and the person whom I most aspire to emulate.

So, on this occasion of your 75th birthday, Mazel Tov — and look fondly toward our future fights against one another. I know that I am.

Your loving son.

Michael

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