Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Dad

My next birthday doesn’t look like a milestone on the calendar, no zero or five at the end of it, but it has tremendous significance to me and my family. My dad died the day before his fifty-second birthday, and as I approach it a lot of emotions are stirring.

I felt a strong connection with my dad: he was the calm in the storm, my personal encyclopaedia, and my scout leader. He introduced us to beauty in many forms by taking us rock hounding, gallery hopping and antique sale hunting. He didn’t have a formal education past high school, but his thirst for knowledge kept him pursuing new endeavours. He started off as a builder; became a stock broker after his first heart attack; and was a property manager, a mortgage broker and a real estate appraiser before becoming an officer of the Ontario Rent Review Commission – the only non-lawyer at the time to have been offered the appointment. At his passing, Gerald Irwin Mandel was so well respected in his job he’d been elevated to the post of Appeals Commissioner.

My dad also had a lot of hobbies. He was a skilled woodworker, enjoyed learning about computers and bonsai plants, and even wrote a song on the vibes. To say he was curious would be an understatement.

It is said the good die young, and I can’t think of a better death than my dad’s. He was dancing at the wedding of his friend’s daughter’s, went to bed, and passed away shortly thereafter. I’ll never forget the funeral and the rabbi telling us Moses also died on his birthday. This left me with a sense of completeness: a sense that his was a life well lived.

So here I am, twenty-six years later: half my life with my dad, half without. There was a tendency for me to measure my life to his, compare our accomplishments, but I don’t think that is useful anymore. Instead, I prefer to look at the foundation he, my mother and my other ancestors set and ask: have I added to it? My grandparents came to this country with nothing and created financial security; my parents had financial security and provided us with an education. I have tried to take that knowledge and transform it into shared wisdom, and whether I succeed or not, only time and my actions will tell.

My dad, like Moses, wasn’t perfect, and I find myself imperfect in similar ways. Life has thrown me some interesting curves perhaps in order to face parallel challenges and maybe find redemption for us both. We all, in our gut, seek to transcend our mistakes and find that place of freedom. I recently stumbled upon this excerpt while reading The House of Mirth (1905) by Edith Wharton.

“My idea of success is personal freedom.”

“Freedom? Freedom from worries?”

“From everything – from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit – that’s what I call success.”

“...There was no tell me about the republic of the spirit.”

“There never is –it’s a country one has to find the way to one’s self.”

“But I should never have found my way there if you hadn’t told me.”

“Ah, there are sign posts –but one has to know how to read them.”

In taking us to galleries, museums, and nature trails, by continuing to pursue his education, by refining his craft as a woodworker, by providing for his family, and by being a just arbitrator my dad familiarized us with the landscape. The Republic of the Spirit for me is where people live in harmony with the land and with each other; where there are no wants; where there is only being curious, creative, and compassionate. My dad didn’t teach us this; he showed us.

The title for The House of Mirth, came from Ecclesiastes 7:4: The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. I must be wise because I have such sadness in my heart: sadness that the sign posts have been so obscured and sadness that my dad is no longer here to talk to about these things.

Along the trail, the strongest two hikers are at the front and the back of the pack thus assuring the whole group gets to its destination safely. My dad died at age 52 and my grandmother died very close to her 104th birthday (26 x 2 = 52 x 2 = 104 hmm). Am I here to lead the way or to follow and help others along? I don’t know what my fate will be but what I do know is - I miss my dad.