As Father's Day approaches, I have mixed emotions.
I am grateful that my father is alive and well, happy and productive at age 82. I have inherited that work ethic and for that too, I'm thankful. Meanwhile, my father-in-law, diagnosed last year at 59 with metastatic lung cancer, has beaten it back. He is embracing life with love, humor and joy. I'm grateful for every week, month and year we have with him.
I will also be in mourning this Father's Day for two men who were never fathers, but who nonetheless touched something in me as a son and as a father. One of these men I'd known my whole life. The other I never met.
Frank was a family friend who knew my parents before I was born. A World War II veteran, he attended the Sorbonne on the GI bill after the war, returned to the U.S. and became a teacher. After the death of his widowed mother for whom he was caring, he moved to New York where he met Joseph, a church choir director and singer who performed in weddings and funerals. Together, they moved into a Greenwich Village apartment overlooking Washington Square. For the next five decades, that was their home, a place I loved to visit.
Eight years ago, I brought my wife and our 1-year-old son to New York where I'd lived in my 20s. It was Easter weekend, so Joe, still working at 79, had church obligations on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Long since retired, Frank offered to watch our son allowing us a few hours in the city without a stroller. He wanted to baby-sit as much out of his own parental instincts as out of any generosity towards us. He doted on our son like the sweetest grandfather one could imagine, just as he'd doted on me forty years earlier. He made me wish we lived closer so he and Joe could be the grandpas I know they'd have been to all our children.
Frank and Dani
Frank died last month at 92. I already miss him.
Within days of Frank's death, children's author Maurice Sendak died. I never met the man, but Chicken Soup with Rice came out when I was a year old and the following year Where the Wild Things Are was published. Pierre and Max were as close to childhood friends as fiction ever gave me.
I'm not usually affected by celebrity deaths, but Sendak's death moved me. Old interviews were rebroadcast where Sendak spoke with pathos and humor of growing up as a sickly child in Brooklyn, with immigrant parents who lost everyone back in Poland to the Holocaust. Sendak also discussed coming out as gay at the age of 80. Like Joseph losing Frank, Sendak had a partner who'd preceded him in death after they'd been together fifty years. Fifty years.
A child of divorce when I was 13, I was divorced when my own daughter was 3. Joe and Frank were together 55 years. They were among the most stable couples I knew. They represented the best of values like love, loyalty and commitment. I considered them family.
I never once heard Joe and Frank use the word gay. Nor can I imagine they ever considered getting married. But as the crusade against marriage equality creeps on like spikes in the Ebola Virus, I've thought of them often. Had they wanted to marry, I can't fathom how that personal expression of their commitment could be seen as a threat to the institutions of marriage and family.
Meanwhile, Sendak feared his career as a children's book author could be damaged by disclosure that he was gay. Though he lived in a committed long-term relationship, he remained closeted for decades. Had he been out, millions of children and parents might have been deprived of his amazing gifts. I'm saddened that he felt forced to make that sacrifice.
On this Father's Day, as a proud father of four children ranging from a 3rd grader to a college graduate, I am also hopeful: hopeful that the world will become a more tolerant place for them. When one of my children chooses a life partner, my hope is their union will be celebrated and supported near and far, regardless of whom they love. I'll keep working for that and believing in that, this Father's Day and beyond. My children -- all children -- deserve that from their fathers. And from the rest of us.
Dani with his son, Ezra
Dani Meier, PhD, is a father, husband, psychotherapist, school social worker, and author-editor of the book "Real Dads," a collection of essays and photographs.