This Father's Day, like the six ones that have come before, I will spend with myfather-in-law and husband, and not my own dad.
My dad died just three days after September 11th -- his body hijacked by a different kind of terrorist: Lung Cancer. His body suffocated just three months after we went out to dinner to celebrate his 63rd birthday. I remember that meal. We ate Italian and it was our last fun evening together. I also remember that he coughed a little bit that night, but it seemed like he just had a tickle in his throat that couldn't be washed away with the water.
I miss my dad terribly, and even though I am an adult with two children of my own, that link, that connection, is something I will always mourn. And, what I miss even more now is something I only had for 18 months -- seeing my dad become a grandfather. He died when my son, Jake, was only a year-and-a-half, and I think it's safe to say, my son will never remember his grandpa. So, it's become my job, this Father's Day -- and every day -- to teach my son (and now my daughter too) who my dad was: a successful architect, a catalyst for social change, and a great lover of the arts. But the full picture also includes that he was quick-tempered and impatient -- and that his grandchildren made him calmer, and perhaps, the most fulfilled he'd ever been.
My dad died when I was thirty-one and this is the eulogy I gave:
Hi. I am Sidney's daughter.
You've heard some wonderful words about my father already -- and now -- I'm going to tell you a few reasons why my I feel my dad -- and my relationship with my dad -- was unique.
Here is my top 10 list:
We did them really well. My dad and I were so similar -- and that's what made us love each other -- and -- get so mad at each other. We both had that stereotypical redheaded temper.
Nothing matches the one we got into in 1987 in the middle of Red Square in Moscow. This fight is now Gilbert family legend. Try to match getting into a screaming match towards the end of the Cold War -- after a State imposed curfew -- and the Russian police approaching you to make sure everything is OK. They firmly, and quickly, escorted us back to our hotel.
That was a good one.
We had more peaceful trips. Which leads me to #2.
2. Bat Mitzvah Gift
My dad gave me a wonderful gift -- the choice to go anywhere in the world for a father/daughter vacation. I decided I wanted to go skiing in Austria. Well, on the first run of the first day, my dad dislocated his shoulder. We still managed to have a great trip. What I'll remember from that trip is that he always put his kids first -- he loved to take us places and show us the world.
3. The Most Memorable Family Trip Ever
New Year's Eve, 1997. My dad's idea of a family trip involved breaking an international treaty and heading to Cuba. We stayed at the Hotel Nacional in Havana and spent New Year's at the Tropicana. A truly unforgettable trip -- where my dad was in his element. Showing us a part of the world few Americans get to see.
Taking the unique path defined my dad's life. It leads me to #4.
4. His business partners
Most people are content to have their business partners located across the hall. My dad, again, did things a bit differently. His business partners were located in Moscow. He and my stepmother, Cheryl, nurtured a successful business there. He was the first American architect to be elected to the Union of Russian Architects. They had an apartment there. He felt invigorated by being a pioneer in a country so few Americans really understand. I think Moscow made my dad younger.
5. His profession
Not content to have a career without a physical impact, my dad chose a profession where we can see his handiwork everyday right here in New York City. There's a bank on Broadway, the headquarters of Gulf+Western, Paramount Pictures, Estee Lauder and L'Oreal -- to name just a few. These places make me proud each time I pass by. "My Dad did that."
My dad didn't know the meaning of dressed down. Actually, I'm wrong. Dressed down to him meant pressed slacks and a button down shirt without a jacket. My dad had style. I think my father is the only person in the world that didn't own a pair of jeans.
My dad taught me to think for myself. Think about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Through his example of turning his architect colleagues into anti-nuclear weapons advocates, my dad taught me that being in a profession that makes a difference is important. He taught me that there are bigger issues than myself.
Or, as my dad would joke for fun, 'Culcha'. It was his mission in his life to add a bit of culture to my life. He was always suggesting that my husband and I go to this museum or that one. He knew what was going on at each one. He would be exasperated with me when I didn't know his references to a certain book, poem or painting. I'll work on that, Dad.
Music was a huge part of my dad's life. Let me rephrase, -- 'interesting' music was always a huge part of my dad's life. Once or twice a year, he and Cheryl would be unreachable for days. They'd be at a five day Wagnerian opera. But it wasn't always opera. I think some of my dad's favorite afternoons of his life (and mine) were spent on the lawn at Tanglewood -- reading the Sunday New York Times and enjoying a picnic basket full of food.
10. Our Wedding Dance
I gave my father the option of choosing any song for the father/daughter dance at my wedding. My dad didn't choose a typical ballad. He was always a bit different. He chose ...... the Hustle. He was such a great dancer -- I'll miss that.
And, I decided to make my top ten list unique -- in honor of my dad. So, here's number 11.
He had the courage to change his life on a regular basis. His latest life change was his most beautiful -- the transition into grandparent-hood. When my nephew, and a few years later, my niece, were born -- there was a huge change. My father turned into a different person: a softy. His three little grandchildren turned him into a big pile of mush. He lived for them -- and even managed to show up at the hospital when my son, Jake, was born -- at 3am. I know Jake and his cousins will all miss their "Pa."
I will always love my dad -- for these reasons -- and many more I haven't shared. We all knew and loved a great man -- someone I was proud to have as my father.