A Toast to Tom
the “farm country” known
as Queens, NY, he grew up as the youngest child in an immigrant family.
Although I never knew my paternal grandparents, I know their life was
extremely difficult. One of the most commendable things about him was
the fact that in spite of the hardships and poverty he experienced
growing up, he truly wanted a better life for his family. He succeeded
He once told me that soon after I was born, he confided to his sister, “I’m so happy, I’m afraid.” I believe this was directly related to his experiences growing up, and, after I became a parent myself, I came to appreciate just how difficult this role must have been for him, given his propensity for worrying.
For all my adolescent rebellion and distancing myself from much of what he held dear, I think he eventually came to believe I wasn’t completely reckless, as I married, had a family, and grew into a responsible person. The one constant in my life with him was that he was always there for us; no matter what, and contrary to his experience, his family always came first. That is the true measure of a person’s life: to not pass on and repeat old hurtful patterns, but to create a new life of love and compassion.
My regrets are many. The biggest one is that, try as I might, I was never able to bring any degree of comfort and peace to him in later years as his health failed. Somehow I could not convince him that every day we have is a gift. That there is always someone less fortunate than us. That if he’d only focus on the positive, rather than the negative, somehow he’d come to see that in spite of his physical pain and infirmity, he’d appreciate the glory of his physical existence, and the evidence therein of his eternal spiritual essence.
He taught me so much about aging. Caught in the age between the blind extension of our physical life-span, without the corresponding quality of life, he was forced to navigate this new terrain without any guideposts, as his generation was totally unprepared for this clash between human mortality and technology. So unfair.
Sure, go for it! Quadruple bypass surgery, spinal surgery, two pacemakers, along with countless labs, tests and imaging procedures. But to what end? On more than one occasion I heard him say, “Gee, if I’d known I’d live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Ah, hindsight. It’s a wonderful thing.
I am grateful for all the life lessons he imparted, and most of all his unconditional love. He is now at peace, having transcended to the life more abundant. May God bless you and keep you, Dad, until we meet again.