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

Always for Dad

I am 24 hours or so from going into the Catskill Mountains and climbing to the 3,573-foot summit of Indian Head Mountain in honor of my Dad. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the day he left this world and I hear Indian Head is one of the tougher climbs. I’m scared, but I’m game.

This morning the sun is out, comforting in its presence. I am listening to a gentle duet between piano and cello and I am feeling love for the world I am in, a kind of gentleness aimed at everyone, even those I don’t like. I’m not sure where this comes from and am not inclined to figure it out lest that effort lose me the moment I’m in. My smiling mind drifts from place to place, my writer’s mind not caring what others might think of these pastel, peace-loving sentences. Those that might cringe in their presence are probably most in need of them.

This morning too I find myself thinking of Billy Damrow, my first childhood friend in my heart (we were able to safely confess our love of books to each other) and Sarah S, a woman I once loved and love and hope is well. Like so many of us, her history wounded her so badly she could not, at the time anyway, experience herself for being the truly extraordinary person she was and, I have little doubt, still is.

Why does my mind center on these people today? I don’t have any idea. It just does.

As for tomorrow’s climb, let me say I’ve read up on it. There is another summit near Indian Head and it is said some hikers like to bag both peaks in one day, so, of course, I’m pondering that possibility. I am just getting back into shape and there is a well worn and highly accurate piece of training guidance that says when you are getting back into shape don’t let your head get ahead of your body. I’ll have to watch that.

I am expecting the beginning of tomorrow’s hike to be similar to the recent Kaaterskill climb. The horrors will hit early and hard, but the hell with’m. I’ll keep going anyway – for Dad. Always for Dad.