Ten years ago and a few days before Fathers Day, Dad invited me to lunch near his downtown Manhattan office. Each week, in his well-mannered and gentle style, he would offer that we meet. I, in turn, would decline, typically citing from a set of practiced excuses. Being gentlemanly, he never challenged my excuses but instead offered encouraging words of patience and understanding. It's not that I was purposely avoiding him, though I feel now it had to have hurt him. But he never let it show or expressed disapproval.
"Next week, Dad -- we'll get together then, Dad." A sad twist of Harry Chapin lyrics: "I know we'll have a good time then."
My atheist friends tell me it was my subconscious. Others are convinced it was angels or God.
Whomever or whatever it was guided me to a place, a moment and to a priceless gift that day when I finally accepted his invitation.
That morning, our pattern was changed, and everything was different. The day itself was unusually bright and welcoming. Not only would we meet, but the very idea of not meeting -- so common and reflexive -- was that day inconceivable. We lunched at a restaurant that had been severely damaged on September 11th, a silent presence reminding us that age and fitness weren't much protection against fate. How grateful I was that he survived when so many others hadn't. We talked about the mundane and how great it was to be together. Somewhere during lunch, I found myself enjoying, admiring and appreciating my father more so than ever before. Every moment felt accentuated, brighter and emphasized as if being reinforced to be better remembered later.
When we rose to leave, we kissed, hugged and said our farewells. We hugged again outside and walked away. He crossed the street and I headed a few steps uptown when a voice stopped me: "Just in case you never see him again." I turned back to face Dad. He had already crossed the street and was turned to face me, patiently waiting for me to look his way as if he knew all along. Not a single car or person crossed between us. We had a silent and motionless corridor across Broadway, one of the busiest streets in the world, to ourselves. We made eye contact, and I raised my hand and said "I love you Dad, and I know you love me." His eyes told me he knew. And then the waves of New York closed upon us.
He died a few days later, but of the many gifts I have been granted, that final opportunity to say I love you has been the most meaningful. He and I never lived together, but despite time and distance, we were connected. Knowing that he knew I loved him and telling him that I knew he loved me has changed me for the better and made me realize how important it is to tell the people around you how important they are. When I tell my sons I love them, they often reply, "I know, Dad. You tell us all the time." Then adding, "I love you too."