You should have had a raucous Irish wake, the kind you see in movies. A bottle should have been passed from mourner to mourner, each telling stories about you, embroidering the details with each swig. We should have all been drunk, including the women and children. Songs should have been sung and fate should have been cursed. A fight should have broken out between your brothers. One should have wrestled the other to the ground while family screamed and friends cheered.
“You no good cowardly bastard. The nerve of you setting foot in this house, drinking my brother’s booze.”
“He was my brother, too, godammit! I loved him so much I couldn’t bear to see him in the hospital, pissing through a tube.”
Then, amid the blood, broken chairs and torn suits, hands should have been shook, men should have embraced, and tears should have flowed as freely as the whiskey.
But no. My father was a Jew, and Jews grieve silently, privately, always worried what the “goyim” will think, acting like guests tiptoeing around the house trying not to make too much noise.
But Dad, in your quiet way, you made some noise, you ruffled your share of feathers. Although I never saw you cry or even raise your voice in anger, you aroused more emotion in others than you ever knew.
And me, the rebellious son, the one who left home as soon as he could, renouncing your religion and your parochial ways, I think of you more than I care to admit. How can I help it? I see you in my mirror everyday. As my unruly hair turns white, I see your tight snowy curls. I keep mine longer than you ever dared, letting my hair hang below my collar, still defying your unassuming, above-the-ear cut.
I see your eyes in mine, covered by trifocals like the ones you wore and hated. I see the same small, piercing brown eyes that dart around, taking everything in while offering little expression. I sensed intelligence behind your eyes, wisdom, but you were always reluctant to share what you were thinking, perhaps afraid your ideas were too bold.
I remember as a child fishing from a small rowboat with you and your friend Mike. As the sun rose, you pulled a tiny black prayer book from your tackle box and asked Mike and me to hold the boat steady while you stood up, knees wobbly, and recited the prayer for the dead in Hebrew. It was the anniversary of your father’s death and on that day at sunrise and sunset you stopped whatever you were doing to say the prayers.
I remember Mike saying to me, “You see the respect your father gives his father. That’s what a man does.”
And I remember you whispering to me later, while Mike was busy reeling in a flounder slapping the edge of the boat refusing to accept the inevitable. “I said those prayers for my father because he would have wanted me to. I don’t want you to do that for me.”
I was only about seven at the time but I never forgot that moment because you revealed something of yourself to me that we never spoke of again. And although I’ve made a conscious effort not to remember the anniversary of your death, I think of you often.
Dad, I miss you. Especially now that your grandson has children of his own.
They say that time helps us heal and forget the past, but it’s not true. As my son’s dark, curly hair begins to show specks of white and as I play with my grandchildren, I miss your profound silence more than ever.
As I stand here at the cemetery, looking out at the graveyard of neatly arranged tombstones, each in its place and yours among them, I want to shout and scream and curse and get drunk and punch someone in the face. But, of course, I won’t.
You wouldn’t have wanted that. And, like you, I am a quiet man.
© Wayne Scheer
[This piece was selected by Jacky Taylor. Read Wayne’s interview]