Love for my father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann

My father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann, remains the greatest gift my life has ever given me. He was born 102 years ago today in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

I think my father and I found sanctuary in each other. When I was a little boy I would go to his room in the early morning, snuggle up next to him, and go back to sleep.

While my parent’s marriage seemed happy to me, I never heard them argue, they slept in separate rooms, we were told, because my mother was a light sleeper and my father snored. True on both counts.

My father taught English at Columbia University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and his desk faced the foot of his bed from about two feet away.

I liked to sit on the foot of his bed and watch him work. The paperwork that covered his desk was, for me, a delicious visual feast.

I’d be sitting there watching him work when I’d be overcome with surge of love for him, at which point I’d jump of the bed, run around his desk, and throw my arms around him. We’d hold our hug for a moment or two, and then I’d return to my perch. A short time later it would happen again. I’d run to him and hug him. He always hugged me back.

It wasn’t until years after he died at age fifty-five (I was fifteen) I discovered a gloriously love-filled truth hit me. Not once when I’d crawl into bed next to him or run around his desk to hug him was I rejected. He never responded as if I was a pain, a bother, rude – even worse, bad. No doubt, having your little boy climb into bed next to you in the early morning might wake you, and I know when you’re working hard at a desk, having your son rush into your arms every few minutes for a hug might interrupt the flow of things just a tad. He loved our rituals as much as I did. They meant just as much to him.

It didn’t matter if he was sleeping or working, what mattered to the two of us was the two of us. Father and son, para siempre.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I would give up the rest of my life in a heartbeat to hug you again, just one more time.

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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

My father

This is not the first and will not be the last time I write about my father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann. He was (and is)  the greatest gift life has ever given me. Yes, he died way too soon at age 55 (I was 15), but his presence in my life for those 15 years and for every single day since (death only takes away so much) has made all the difference in the world for me.

I miss him on a daily basis and would give anything to be able to sit and talk with him for hours (and hug him). After he died I learned some things about his life I’d like to ask him about. When he was alive I knew he was in the U.S. Army in World War II and I knew he was in the 20th Armored Division. It was only a few years ago that I learned the 20th was one of the three American divisions to liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp. Like most war veterans, my father never talked about it.

All of us have relationships with our histories. Much of getting to a healthy place in life revolves around getting free of the damaging messages we received about ourselves when we were growing up, when we were too young to have any reference point to tell us what we were being told about ourselves was wrong. People (often family members) saying: You’re stupid, too fat, too thin, too ugly, too intense, the cause of all our problems…and then of course, the are those children who’ve been on the receiving end of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual, where your entire being gets the message that you are unforgivably inhuman, worse than dirt. Also damaging is the messages some get that they are smarter, better, superior than others. One’s self-image is badly skewed when on the receiving end of falsehoods like those.

Getting free of these messages may seem impossible. Not so. If you were (or are) lucky, you had someone like my father in your life. Someone who simply loved you for being you. All you had to do was be yourself to be loved and accepted, and in that, you got to discover that there is such a thing as being safe with another human being. It’s a helluva lifeline, I can tell you. Perhaps there is someone in your life who loves you like that now. I hope so.

At this writing I am 59 and I’ve been  on my own since I was 16. Were it not for the presence of my father in my life I would not be alive. Some have said it was an act of courage for me to get back to my feet after being shot in the head at point-blank range. Maybe so. But, if so, my father (and my then seven-year-old daughter) provided the ignition that allowed what courage I have its full rein.

I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to write about my father today. It may be because we are closing in on the end of a year and about to start a new one. I tend to get a bit reflective around this time of the year.