When I was in Kindergarten, someone brought in a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. I remember excitedly turning the pages and expecting to see a picture of my father under the entry for “World’s Tallest Man.” I was genuinely surprised (disappointed and confused) to see the picture of some other guy instead. Surely my father is the tallest man in the world, I thought. He was the tallest man I knew at the time. (He’s 6’4”.)
The best part about having such a tall dad—in addition to awesome piggyback rides—is that I could always find him in a crowd. And because he was as much a creature of height as he was habit, when he came to any of my school performances, I always knew where to find him in the audience—the last row near the aisle—the place where he could be certain not to obstruct anyone else’s view and could also give his legs room.
My father is temperate, unflappable, merciful, and mild. I have never seen him loose his temper or raise his voice. He is generous and thoughtful. He remembers what his loved ones like on special occasions, and sometimes “just because.” When I was in college, he and my mother sent me a Junior’s Cheesecake every Valentine’s Day. And whenever I went home on vacation, my dad had the same assortment of sweets and treats waiting for me. When my mother died and I moved back home, my dad cooked one of my favorite meals (baked turkey wings) on a weekly basis for me.
My dad is the epitome of brand and customer loyalty. Each and every one of his electronic devices is Sony—starting with the stereo system that played my Raffi records and tapes as a kid. Even now I could give you a virtual brand name tour of his house. I know what sort of orange juice is in the fridge, and which brand of rice is in the pantry. I know which moisturizer he uses, and the soap he bathes with. He has purchased his bread from the same bakery for as long as I’ve been alive, and he will never change cellphone carriers. I’m sure of this. I know where he does his birthday and Christmas gift shopping—the same places every year. And he has given me (and my siblings) so much Godiva chocolate over the years, that I should have invested in the company.
My father’s sweet tooth is awe-inspiring. He puts condensed milk (the molasses of the dairy world) in his tea, on his cereal, and even on his ice cream. Sometimes he drinks it straight from the can when it’s almost empty. He doesn’t always have a large appetite for savory foods, but he can always make room for sweets. When I was still young enough to feel at my prettiest in pink stockings and a tutu, he used to pick me up from ballet class. There was a Carvel ice cream shop just a block away from my dance studio, and it was understood, whether it was tee shirt or mittens weather, that we would be stopping there afterward. Unbeknownst to me at the time (he admitted this just recently), he would often also get himself a cone during my class while he was waiting for me—such an ice cream fiend was he.
As a child I only ever saw my father in one of three things: a business suit, tennis whites, or his pajamas—which were worn within a thread’s breadth of evaporation. (I inherited that trait from him, holding on to clothes until they literally can no longer hold on to me.) It is only in his more recent years that my father learned how to dress informally. His makeover began when his coworkers teased him for wearing a suit and tie on “casual Fridays.” At first even his casual was rather stiff; he ironed his jeans and polo shirts. This is a man who starches his own shirts, casual didn’t come easily to him.
My father taught me how to be neat and organized. Growing up, his motto for my room was, “Everything must have a place, and everything must be put back in its place when you’re done with it.” Each night before I went to bed, I was to set out my clothing for the next day: tunic hung up, blouse ironed, and socks in shoes. I still do a version of this when I’m travelling the next day. My father’s catch phrase for such acts of preparation was, “advance yourself.”
My father also taught me how to walk fast, albeit unintentionally. That’s what happens when you’re a little kid and your 6’4” father takes you to school and holds your hand—you learn to walk-run lest you be semi-dragged. Then one day, when your legs are long enough, you find that walking fast is your default.
Perhaps the most important lesson my father ever taught me was how to persevere and how to work hard. It took him several tries to pass the bar, but he didn’t give up. It wasn’t easy for him to open his own law practice, but he worked for as many hours as he could to keep his business afloat. The death of my mother was a devastating blow for all of us, but I saw him navigate his loss with grace and tenderness. I’ve learned a lot from seeing my father succeed and realize dreams, but his responses to losses, missteps, failures, and detours have taught me even more. He has loved and supported me through all of my life’s peaks and valleys—cheering on my successes and helping me learn from my failures. And while he may not have given me his height (I’m only 5”5’), I wouldn’t trade him for any other father in the world.