I lost my father this past Friday. And I wrote a note to the family that evening about how much it hurt and at the same time how blessed we were that he passed peacefully in his sleep at the age of 92. He was a high character high integrity guy, steady and sure, thoughtful and wise, and the head of our family.
Each summer, for as long as I can remember, our family would gather at Stonewall Beach for vacation, swimming, and sharing, walking and talking, building sand castles and family bonds that have stood the test of time. Each year in August, on or around his birthday on August 16, we would all be together for a meal around the table at our place in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard, right up off the Stonewall Beach. Dad would do a toast, starting slowly and picking up steam, working his way around the table and saying something insightful and encouraging about each family member. It was so personal and it was so clear that he paid attention and saw things about each one of us. For my kids I know it was always sort of both a ritual of summer and a send-off into the fall and the year ahead, with all of its challenges and opportunities.
During the day though, we were on the beach. I could do the routine with my eyes closed. Gather the folding chairs, find the clean beach towels, pack some grub and water for the lunch hour, and schlep down the path to the beach below. The first order was always to find a good stretch of the beach that was perfect sand, where we could lay out the towels, set out the chairs in formation, and build our temporary family compound. Different ones of us sat in different chairs as the day unfolded, as some walked the beach looking for shells, some rode the waves, and others sat visiting and munching.
It was in this setting that my dad and I would always grab two chairs together and sit for a real catchup and in truth a kind of life assessment. This photo above is the two of us deep in conversation a few years back. Dad would always start lightly with a “how are you doing“ but again as we continued we went deep on the assessment and progress of the year past, and what was most important about the year ahead with both the kids or myself. We looked from all angles, and of course from the perspective of his own life experience. The thing is I really trusted his insights and treasured his words. I so looked forward to the chance to talk to my father, to be his son, to feel the strength of his presence, to feel again how much he cared. I could really say what was on my mind and heart and feel safe and feel heard and held. Held by my father who it seemed shouldered the type of ultimate responsibility a father carries. Encouraged to face life more squarely, and to go forward focused on the things that mattered most. And as we sat together on those chairs, summer after summer, our lives continued to take shape, with each summer finding us at a new point.
I loved and love my father for so many reasons. I have learned so much from him on so many things. And there will be much to say later this summer when we put him to his final rest close by Stonewall Beach. Tonight I just want to say thank you, Dad, for all of our wonderful conversations together on the beach. Memories of a lifetime and for a lifetime.
You can read more about his life and legacy here.