Myron Spitz 8/13/41 - 3/19/21
Daddy, I miss you already. How can you be gone? Stolen from us at 79 after a short but dramatic decline by complications from COVID and Parkinson’s, this end felt so abrupt, so unfair. But what a gift for Mom and me to have been there, talking to you, listening to Duke Ellington, just being a family together until you were ready to go. Of course in true Myron fashion, you waited until we had both finally fallen asleep, Mom lying in the hospital bed next to you, me in the chair beside you. You reclaimed the tiniest bit of privacy and modesty you had left, so that you could leave us on what little of your own terms you still had after all these weeks of invasive poking and prodding. So like you to do that, Daddy.
I held your hand for the entire ten hours, feeling it curled around mine in a tight, involuntary Parkinsonian fist, telling myself you were holding me as tightly as I held you even though I knew the truth was that it had been a week or more since your last dose of Sinemet.
Who else will explain to me for the dozenth time how a bill becomes a law or the difference between impeachment and removal from office? Who will remind me which Roosevelt was the reason for term limits? Who else will painstakingly deliberate whether I should take 95 to 91 or the Merritt when driving back to Boston on a Thursday evening versus on a Sunday morning? Who will know the weather report in two different states ten days out? Who else will sit still for an hour while Freyja brushes his hair or swats at his eyelids with green eyeshadow? Who else will put back a nearly empty container of cream cheese and insist there’s still plenty for next time? Who will listen to me talk and talk and talk about the latest book I read and only much later tell me that he read it ages ago? Who else could expertly fold and unfold The New York Times, reading it with one hand like the original New York City subway straphanger he was? Who else could possibly make his way through every New Yorker from cover to cover without missing a single weekly issue? No one else, that’s who.
You were so wise. People who knew you think of you as that tall, shy, quiet man. With a dry wit. Kind. Gentle. So smart. Brilliant, really. And Daddy, you never wanted me to see you as a person with fears and worries. Even when you were at your sickest, like a bird you hid it. You tried to make light of everything. When you had surgery, I slept on three hospital chairs pushed together down the hall from you because I knew you were in agony. But you just smiled drily and said “Oh, this is just wonderful.” You never wanted me, your daughter, to see her daddy as anything but just fine. You didn’t want me to know that anything bothered you. I couldn’t help but know otherwise because I knew you, but I was willing to let you have your secret. We both pretended that you were always fine. Mom clued me in that instead you always worried. About me, about being late for appointments, about the stock market, about where you left your keys. About everything. That sometimes you woke up in the middle of the night, sick with anxiety about something minute. But you never, ever wanted me to see you sweat.
Knowing that did not keep me from thinking you were perfect, because you were my daddy, which was all I needed to think you were perfect.
You deliberately took up as little space in the world as you could even though your brain and your heart and your looks could have had you front and center of any stage. You preferred an aisle seat in the back row instead, where you could duck out without anyone noticing. Always a spectator, but never missing a thing. You noticed every detail, absorbed and retained even the tiniest, most useless fact. We used to joke that you were a walking encyclopedia. Who needed Mapquest when you were in the car? Mr. Wikipedia you were, long before the internet even existed. Invited to join Mensa but too introverted to consider it, you declined. You lived in the library. You could have done anything in the entire world, yet you retreated from everything. All to make space for me. And I took it, just assuming it was mine from the start.
I remember when I was at HCHS among kids whose parents pushed them to get good grades, who bribed them, paid them for every A, bullied them when they got anything less. I came home with a stellar report card and watched your face as you looked it over. “Very nice,” you said. I wanted more. Accolades. Ten bucks an A. Why not? I asked. “Because,” you said. “We never pushed you to get all As. You don’t go to that school for us. Your grades are for you.”
I often think about how even in death we can achieve immortality. I learned about that first from reading The Epic of Gilgamesh in graduate school. You were fascinated that I actually read it in part in Sumerian and Akkadian. Gilgamesh couldn’t achieve immortality like Utnapishtim, the immortal man, but he found out that through his great works and through his children, he will live on. So there you go, Daddy. Great works and children. You might not have intended it, but you went and did something pretty special, if I say so myself. Because of you, there are two wonderful little girls in the world who will grow up to remember their Papa as a brilliant, kind, patient, and loving man who always had all the time in the world for them. Just as you always had all the time in the world for me. In me, and in them, and in every word I write and everything they do, you live on.
Even better are the ways in which I am like you. Your two favorite things in the world were walking and reading, and those are my two favorite things too. Now I am raising a family of walkers and readers. Even Freyja, who has difficulty both with walking independently and reading independently, loved to do both together with you.
Johnny always said it was clear how much you loved me just from how you looked at me. And I could tell the same from how you looked at Mom. How you loved her! She was the light of your life, your boss, your better half. You never so much as lifted a finger without her okay. In our very last conversation, when you were barely lucid, I asked you a question and your automatic answer that had nothing to do with what I was asking was “Let me check with your mother.” That’s been your standard response to everything my entire life. There it is, your raison d’être: you loved Mom and me with all your heart. Stuck in the middle of us as you sometimes were, I know you wanted nothing more than for us to make our way back to each other. And we have, Daddy. We have. We are going to be fine. Better than fine, even. We miss you terribly but that is something we can do together. So you can rest easy. Your work is done.
One of my favorite books growing up was A Girl Called Al. In it, the narrator is a girl whose parents are together, and she’s describing her father to her friend Al, whose parents are divorced. “My father is a prince,” she says. Al is hurt, because her father is not a prince. The unnamed narrator doesn’t even realize that what she says about her father might be hurtful because it’s never occurred to her that fathers could be any other way than how her father is. I borrowed that phrase for you, because it suited you so well. You were my prince. My knight in shining armor. It’s an outdated trope now, and I say it with apologies to fatherless, under-fathered, and poorly fathered girls and women and people everywhere, but I was and am a daddy’s girl and that is exactly what I wanted to be. You were my person. Now Johnny has size thirteen shoes to fill. Good thing he has nearly twenty years of practice to step into his new role as my number one guy.
We love you, Daddy. We all do. Relax, and know that the bills are paid, the keys are on the hook, the library books are returned, everything else is taken care of, and we are thinking of you every minute of every day.