Memories Lost and What They Leave Behind

I’VE SAID BEFORE, and I almost believe it to be true, that losing my memory after my dad died was the best thing that ever happened to me.

After all, you can’t mourn for something you never had. My mind created the ultimate defense against loss: The inability to recall every having lost in the first place.

This was my parting gift, my consolation prize. Memories lost can’t hurt you, can’t haunt you. They become pieces of dreams, raggedy shards of flotsam sloshing through the back roads of your consciousness.

But nothing is ever completely lost. For me, not remembering my father was the easy part – understanding how to be a father was much harder, if not impossible.

It was as if the lost memories buried themselves into the pores of my personality, only to manifest years later as a mental barrier to fatherhood. I went from someone who couldn’t remember his father to someone who didn’t know the first thing about parenting or what children require.

Anyway, this is nothing new for me. It’s not some grand revelation. But I’m thinking about it now because of another loss, this one very recent and in some ways, surprisingly, more painful.

Victor Klein was a friend, a leader of our Synagogue community, a classic ad man and wanderlust-filled adventurer who died of a sudden heart attack. No health problems, no warnings, just there and then, not there.

Victor conned me into joining the Synagogue Board of Directors (he could be very persuasive.) He was always kind, always a fighter for what he believed in. He was your friend whether you wanted him to be or not.

But most of all, during some of the most important years of my daughter’s young life, he was a father figure. He was, quite simply, what I too often was not.

Time and again I would come home to find my daughter on Victor’s lap while he and my wife worked on the Synagogue newsletter. The scene was much more grandfather and granddaughter, very innocent and sweet.

I was building a business back then. I traveled, I worked late, I had mountains of stress. Of course I told myself that the sacrifices were all for my family, and it was largely true.

But now, hindsight being what it is, I wonder whether what felt true then is a pile of crap now.

I had no reference point for how to be dad, so I wasn’t. I couldn’t face the pain of what I lost at age 8, so I didn’t. Besides, I had people like Victor to pick up the slack, so I could be free to chase the ghosts of fortune.

I’m trying to make up for lost time now. I still travel, but I try to be more present when I’m home and more connected when I’m away. I find it easier to be a dad these days – not because I’ve accepted my role or that I’m learning anything new, mind you, it’s just that my daughter is now a teenager and, well, let’s just say I have a lot more experience being a brother.

And I don’t resent Victor, not in the least. He was there for us without being asked, and died without ever knowing how important he was to our family.

That, I think, is the real tragedy. It may be a cliché but it’s true – don’t wait to tell people what they mean to you.

Tell them, today, and let that be the memory that never fades away.

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