In all times

In all times

And in all lives

There are moments filled

With the sincerest intimacy

You and I shared such moments

And I thank you

And love you

For those times

~

Note: I wrote this poem for my father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann,  alone in his room the day after he died on August 16, 1969. He was 55.  I was 15. It is the only thing I’ve written that I remember word for word. Never have I been more focused when writing than I was that day.    ~  PSK

Time on my father

My father celebrated his last birthday, his 55th, on February 16, 1969. He died 177 days later from peritonitis on August 16. When I celebrated my 55th birthday on October 2, 2008, it was not lost on me that in 177 days, March 28,  to be exact,  I would have outlived my beautiful father by one year. I knew the very moment I would pass him; he died at 1:43 in the afternoon. At 1:43 p.m. today I will have outlived him by four years.

Now there may be some folks who think my memorializing moments like this is maudlin, macabre even. I frankly don’t give a damn what those folks  think. To each their own, as they say. My father was and is the greatest gift my life has ever given me. I am positive I would not be alive today were it not for the fact his presence is alive and well in my heart and soul.

He was a remarkable man, and, a remarkable parent. Born to working class parents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he served in the Army during World War II (his was in one of the three divisions that liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1945, something I would not learn about him until after he died), went to Columbia University where he majored in English Literature and later taught same in Columbian University and, in the last years of his life, a second college, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

As a parent, he was skilled at knowing when it is better to let life rather than parent be the teacher. When I was about eight or nine I went into his room and told him I needed to talk to him because I was very, very nervous about something. At the time we lived in the hamlet of Pearl River, New York. Our home was a few miles from the hamlet’s business center, comfortable walking distance for us young folks. He leaned back in his desk chair and asked me what I was nervous about. “I want to buy a pack of rubbers!” I announced. To this day I have no idea why this was. I was certainly not sexually active. My father paused, then asked, “Are you short on money?”  “No, no,” I reassured him, “I’ve got my allowance.” “Okay then, what are you nervous about?” I told confessed: “I’m afraid the man’s gonna ask me what I want’m for!”

My father smiled. What he said next calmed all my fears and nervousness because what he said next made all the sense in the world. After all, I had purchased model airplanes and boats and such and did not think myself a novice when it came to shopping. “Well, Peter, I’ll tell you what you do. If the man at the drugstore asks you what you want them for, you just tell him you’ll read the directions.” Perfect! Why hadn’t I thought of that!

And so it was that I marched out of the house brimming with confidence. I suspect my father called the man at the drugstore and told him he was in for a wee bit of entertainment and could he please be kind as he went about saying no to my request for a pack of rubbers. I’m sure my father told him to ask me what I wanted them for because he knew the man would get quite a kick out my response. Which is exactly what happened. The man did ask me what I wanted them for, I said I’d read the directions, and the man said I should come back in a few years when I probably wouldn’t need directions.

Humor and entertainment aside, my father also knew when – and how –  to protect his son from fear, from feeling in danger. One winter day we were driving towards Pearl River proper on Washington Avenue. It was a snowy day, the plows were out.  Almost immediately after Washington Avenue passes Lincoln Avenue it takes a rather steep downward dip, perhaps a quarter mile or so in length. As we came over the rise and began our decent, we saw about six or seven cars stuck at all different angles at the bottom of the hill. It was still snowing and the hill was very slippery. We began to slide slowly down the hill right towards the stuck cars. “Well,” my father said, in a totally calm and matter of fact voice, “looks like we’re gonna hit.” “It’s like bumper cars,” I replied. “Seems so,” said my father. And so it was that we bumped into a couple of the cars and came to a stop. No one was hurt. Years later I realized that not once was I scared. My father was so calm and serene it didn’t cross my mind to be scared. How different my experience would’ve been if he’d gotten all wound up over the fact we were sliding down a snowy hill.

I share all this with you because I hope you have or have had someone in your life like my father. Someone who loves you completely simply because you are you and need not be anything but you. Life has taught me this is not a common experience. And while I was only 15 when he died, you can be sure I wouldn’t give up those 15 years with him for a thousand years with anyone else. So when the clock reaches 1:43 this afternoon, I will be thinking about my father. I will be grateful for the four years I’ve reached that he didn’t and I will, as I always do, tell him that I am doing the best I can, which is all any of us can do, and is exactly what my father would want me to do.

I love you, Daddy, my whole wide world.

It’s good to be alive

*

Rhythm moving moments remembering soft

Sweet tongues in sweet wood rhythm

It’s good to be alive

*

Shifting sound breathes flesh to flesh

Memory deep in glistening time

It’s good to be alive

*

The curling bend of a guitar note

Glistens a tear to my eye

It’s good to be alive

*

Your voice calling across the nighttime sky

To me crying standing up again

It’s good to be alive

*

Come tomorrow’s daylight rising

I’m my father’s son I am always

It’s good to be alive

*

I Miss My Father

He was born February 20, 1914 and died August 16, 1969 when he was 55 and I was 15. He was my closest friend and remains the greatest gift life has ever given me.

While I know there will be more missives like this one about him, I also know that any words of mine will fail in their attempt to tell you what a truly special human being he was. There are things I can tell you that may, I hope, give you a glimpse. For example, there was not an iota of bigotry in him. He comfortably accepted people for who they were. It didn’t matter to him, and I mean, it didn’t matter to him if someone was gay or straight, if someone was black, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Muslim and so forth.

My father experienced people as individuals, and was not adverse to stinging back when confronted by bigotry. When we moved from Pearl River, New York to Nyack, New York somewhere around 1967, the house in Pearl River had not yet sold. While Nyack was a truly integrated community Pearl River was, for all intents and purposes, snowflake white. We were known as a civil rights family. Our minister marched with Dr. King and all of us were very open about our commitment to civil rights – for all people.

One day my father returned to check on the Pearl River house to discover someone had written the words Nigger Lovers on the front window. My father either lost sight of the fact selling the house might be a tad easier if he removed the words or he simply didn’t care because, rather than remove the words, he added some of his own. When he drove away, the words Nigger Lovers were still on the front window, however, they were now followed by the words, And Proud of It.

Staying with this theme, my father let me fight my own fights but would, at times, be nearby in case things got out of hand. Soon after we moved to Nyack I became enamored with a beautiful girl who happened to be black. Anyway, some kids found out. One day me and about three or four boys my own age were hanging out in our garage when one of them told me they weren’t going to let me out of the garage unless I said the word nigger. Now, while I supported Dr. King’s non-violent movement I must admit I wasn’t very good at it. I punched the kid right in the face and next thing I knew I was in a fight with all of them. Suddenly one of the boys saw my father approaching the garage. Everybody froze. I went out to see father. I was disheveled and may have had a bloody nose.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. I told him what they wanted me to say in order to get out of the garage.

“You want some help?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Okay. I’ll be nearby if you need me.”

And so I went back into the garage and ended things when, after more punches were thrown, I picked up a long-handled shovel and begin swinging for the fences which caused my opponents to flee.

When I went back into the house my father ran a bath for his bruised-up son. I sat in the bath and my father sat in the bathroom with me and we talked.  In a tone that told me he knew the answer he asked, “Did you say it?”

“Nope.”

“Good for you. I’m proud of you.” He stood up, leaned over,  kissed me on top of my head, and said, “I’ll get you some aspirin.”

I miss my father.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

Today marks 40 years since you left the world far too soon. You were 55 and I was 15. I climbed to the summit of Indian Head Mountain in the Catskills today to honor you and our relationship, a relationship that continues to this day. It is not a given that death ends the relationship between father and son (or daughter).

You died on a Saturday afternoon and I remember the exact moment because I felt it, physically felt it. I thought about it during the climb today.

The hospital called that morning to tell Mommy you would not make it through the day. I remember being upset and angry with her for not being by your side. She said you were in a coma and wouldn’t know the difference anyway. In retrospect, I don’t think she had the ability to handle the moment. All I know is you should not have died alone, coma or no coma. Anyway, it was around 1:40 in the afternoon when me, Pascal and Bobby decided to walk into Nyack and buy some soda pop. It’s about a 20 minute walk. We were well on our way when all of a sudden the air went out of me. I stopped walking and leaned over, hands on my knees. I knew. I said, “He just died.” Bobby and Pascal looked at me and said, “No, Pete, he’ll be okay. Don’t worry.” We went to the store, bought our soda pop and walked home. I went into the kitchen and Mommy was at the counter preparing food. She turned and said, “Peter, it happened.” You had died. You time of death was 1:53.

The climb today was grueling, but I didn’t care. I was glad to be alive to do it. I summited around 12:40 and put one of your twigs on the summit. When I visit your grave I collect the small branches and twigs that fall from the Oak tree next to you. It dawned on me some years ago that by now your body is part of the soil and thus part of the tree so by having these twigs with me I have you with me. I leave one on every summit.

On the descent I thanked God for giving me an ample ass because when my feet slip out from under me on wet rock and I land on my butt it’s like falling into the arms of a loved one.

I miss you terribly, Daddy. I’d give up the rest of my life in a heartbeat to hug you one more time. In the meantime, I’m doing the best I can. I’m far from perfect as I’m sure you know. But one of the many things that was special about you was you never expected me to be perfect or wanted me to be perfect. All I had to do to be loved by you was be me, be Peter.

I hope we meet again. I hope there is something after this life and if there is, if it doesn’t include being with you again, I’m not interested.

I hope you are safe and happy and loved wherever you are.

Always you son love you his whole wide world,

Peter