It wasn’t until after his cancer diagnosis in 1989 that my dad began to focus most of his efforts on his memoir. The writing process was different from previous works. It was good for the family—for my parents’ marriage—because it involved less research, less travel. He was home more, though by that time, I was living in Boston. Fortunately, Pan Am had this great New York to Boston Shuttle which cost fifty bucks for a round-trip ticket, so I came home on weekends whenever I could. My mother would park the car and my dad would wait for me at the gate.
That’s one of my clearest visual memories of him, actually. Dad’s eyesight was so bad that he couldn’t see me until I was right up close. But I could see him. He wasn’t a tall guy, so the first thing I always picked out of the crowd was his wide, brown dome of a forehead. He’d be waiting there, hands on hips, face full of anticipation as I came down the ramp. His embrace felt like home.
Of course, once we got home, the time I spent with my parents was limited. I’d be lying if I implied that seeing them was my main reason for flying to New York those weekends. I was in my twenties with lots of friends from high school, college and my old ballet school swarming the city. The social scene was what drew me back each weekend. I might have dinner with my parents or spend a few hours with them in the afternoons, but at night I went out, stayed out late and slept until eleven the next morning. Like many very young people, I believed time was limitless. When I woke up, my father would have already put in a good five hours at the typewriter. He’d get up before dawn—as he did all his life until he got really sick—put up the coffee, pour himself a mug (black with loads of sugar) and begin his work.
By then had become clear that the memoir was the thing he should have been working on all along. This was going to be his triumph. Dad believed—because this was the way the publishing world had worked when he was at Viking*—that he could get his “four chapters” done and would then be given a big advance to do the rest.
My father remained idealistic about his work to the very end. He could always imagine success waiting just beyond the horizon. “When my ship comes in …” was the phrase I heard him use over and over again.
Though the ship never came in, I am proud of my father nevertheless. He left me a gift that most daughters never get: the first ten chapters of a richly detailed memoir, ten more chapters outlined. Some people have suggested that my mother and I try to finish the book, so his legacy lives on. It is a beautiful thought, but I know, lacking my father’s experience and perspective, we’re incapable of doing that. Besides, I believe that his legacy lives on anyway—in me and in my children.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned from my father, the most important is: set your goals high, but don’t squander the present. No matter how my father chased his dreams, he always had time for me.
Enjoy the love of your family, your children’s joys and wonderings. Strive for the future, but don’t let NOW pass you by.
*My father was an art director at Viking Press from 1959-1981