Yesterday was another first. My first Father’s Day without my son. To rephrase that, my first Father’s Day without my son alive. As days go, it was okay, difficult but okay. I dedicated the day to my son, Jake, who made me a father, who showed me what a father is and does, who taught me how to be a father.
He taught me that even though I might not have wanted to get up at 4 AM to make a work call, I did anyway. He showed me that my job was to provide for my family whatever I had to do. I learned to stand behind him, to back his play, to teach him what I could of the world, to give him a breadth of experiences, to encourage him to sample what this world has to offer, and when he failed, to help him back on his feet. We learned how to play together, to spend time in easy companionship, to talk of the greater world, to dream together. When Jake was young, I often had to leave for extended work trips, and when he asked why I had to go, my answer was, “Because that what daddies do”. They take care of their children. They protect them as best they can for as long as they can, and then they have to be willing to let them go out into the world and succeed for fail on their own, as difficult as that may be. In the end, though, I wasn’t able to protect him from himself.
We are in Ojai, and this past weekend was the Ojai Music Festival. We managed to see two concerts, one Friday night and one on Sunday morning. The Sunday concert was a Mozart symphony and a bevy of canons, musical whimsies, some of them wonderfully fun, some of them rather tedious. Before the concert we went to the Farmer’s Market to have one of the delicious tamales we discovered there, shop for a few random vegetables, and pick up some coffee we ordered from a company in Ventura. Ojai is a small community; we walked from the market to the park where the festival takes place. On our way, we saw a young woman sitting on the sidewalk, small backpack beside her, writing what looked to be a letter on a piece of yellow paper. As we passed, she looked up and said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you, but I am homeless and hungry. Can you help?” There was something genuine about her so instead of just giving her a dollar or two, we responded, “Well, let’s get you something to eat”. We went back to the market and got her a couple of the tamales and a big bag of oranges. When we returned with our simple offering, she was so very grateful; it brought tears to my eyes. I thought, for this moment, I am able to be a father to another father’s daughter. Can offer a tiny bit of solace in this world, and take care of her, even if only to give her a bag of oranges and something warm to eat.
Jake’s presence was around a lot this weekend. Dragonflies and hummingbirds were everywhere we went. He was at the evening concert on Friday night with his friend Austin, sitting in the two seats in front of us. They would have had a lot to say about the music. It was a concert of jazz ‘interpretations’ of Gershwin music, sometimes it worked, and sometimes it seemed as if the seven musicians were each playing a different piece of music. Austin was an accomplished pianist, a year younger than Jake. He passed away a year before Jake, and now, doubtless, the two best friends are together again.
On Sunday evening we went out to dinner at a local restaurant that we have eyed for the past few trips. Italian with a host of delicious sounding specials and fresh pastas. Sadly, it was one of those places where the food looks better than it actually tastes. Terry’s eggplant was undercooked, and as she jabbed it with her fork, we could hear Jake saying, “Mom, send it back”. So she did. They tried to rescue it with another few minutes in the oven. No luck. The rest of the food was okay, but lacked depth of flavor and finesse. The owner came over to talk to Terry about her eggplant and we gave her our complete evaluation of the meal. She looked a bit surprised and said, “You are particular, aren’t you?” Part of our family dining ritual was to deconstruct the food, to critique it, and usually to talk about how it could have been better. As a chef, Jake would have had a field day. When we informed the waiter that it was my birthday, he said that they always gave a complimentary Tiramisu dessert for birthdays. It was a gift from Jake. He made the best damn Tiramisu you ever ate, and wanted me to have one for my birthday. Like the rest of the food, it lacked the complexity of flavor a good Tiramisu should have. Jake would have sent it back, comp or not. We just tasted it and let it sit on the table as a reminder of better days.
When Jake was in school, and I met other parents for the first time, I introduced myself as Ed Colman and the response was always, “Oh, you’re Jake’s Dad.” Everybody knew him, and so that’s who I became. Jake’s Dad. His departure doesn’t take away my fatherhood; I am still a father, his father. I will always be Jake’s Dad, come what may.