First published in New York Newsday
My Dad loved the beach. We would drive to Long Beach from Rockville Centre in the summers, the little triangle window of the car open to let the cigarette smoke out while we waited for WABC to play one of our favorite songs. There were no car seats, no public shaming of smoking parents, no instant music download.
We went to Sands Beach Club, back when it was a beach club. I remember looking up to my father as he held my hand, running to keep pace with his long stride.
As adults we loved to sit on the beach together and read our books, gossip, and soak up the sun. Me with my SPF 30 and hat; Dad with his 4 SPF oil and skin cancer scars.
When he died, suddenly of an aneurism one bright April morning, we were all devastated. Dad was on a breathing tube – how he would have hated that – and one eye was open. His once bright blue eyes were dull and viscous, as if some fine coating of death dust had settled in them, creating a cloudy partition between worlds.
I talked to him, told him how much I loved him, and that he could let go; that we would let him go once we were all together. He never wanted to linger in a vegetative state, like his mother had. “Throw me under a bus kids, if I ever get like that,” he would tell us after every visit with his dementia-ridden mother in the nursing home.
My sister arrived and ran to me, lips clenched. No matter how old we get, I can still see her little girl face, and I can still tell when she’s about to cry and it still always makes me cry, because I have failed to protect her.
We took him off life support at 5 pm, gathered around his bed: holding his hand, or arm, or touching his hair, crying goodbyes. It took 25 minutes for the rest of his life to leave his body, and we left then, wandering slowly to the elevators, to make all those calls and sad arrangements.
And so it was the worst week of our lives this week of wakes, and memories, and stories and masses, and friends. At the same time though, our world exploded in love all around us, and we said goodbye to my father, son of Ireland, man of faith, leader of the band.
We’re at Malibu now. I hold my niece’s little hand so she won’t fall. She looks up at me and smiles. And Dad is there. We put the chairs on the sand and hang the Don’t Tread On Me flag that has flown at the Cronin cabana for almost 40 years. And Dad is there.
Because Father’s Day, whether he’s with you or not, is still a celebration of your father. And, like it or not, his blood runs through our instruments, and his song is in our souls. We’re all just living legacies to the leader of the band.
And so it shall ever be.