A friend of mine just lost her father. Whenever I get news such as this, I am reminded of my own loss. Usually my mind takes me directly back to those last hospital days, the funeral, the eulogy I delivered, all the dysfunctional family moments. However, as time passes, I find myself remembering some of the other moments that encompassed life with Dad. I’m hoping my friend finds comfort in similar moments she’s had in the past with her dad, not just these last days.
My father was never one to get names straight, often making up strange versions of real names or giving someone a new name. After we had seen the movie “The Graduate”, we went to our local music store and he asked for the album by “Simone and Carbuncle”, the guys who sang that song about Joe DiMaggio and Mrs. Robinson. (Yes, I saw that movie as a teenager with my dad; my mother had just left us and my dad and I were seeing a lot of movies together in those days. It was that or another run at “The Sound of Music”….)
I have one brother, Alan, and my father called us both “Rob Al”. That was so he wouldn’t get us mixed up. When my son, Darek, was born, Dad decided that “Silas” was a better choice of a name for him and called him that for so long that we finally had to ask him to stop because Darek wasn’t answering to his own name. (In Dad’s last years, the cat that kept him company on his bed was named Silas.)
Dad never got a handle on my daughter’s name: Livia. From the day we first took her to visit her Grandpa he christened her “Libia” and there was no going back.
One evening I was returning from our cellar with a load of laundry. My son was playing with Leggos or trucks or something in one corner of the living room but Livia, who was no older than four, was sitting crossed legged on the floor intently watching television. This was not usual as I had tuned into a new station in anticipation of a pending presidential press conference. I had missed the beginning of the speech, arriving back in my living room just in time to hear Ronald Reagan say these immortal words (at least in our family) as he pounded his fist against the podium in front of him: “And we intend to take strong measures against Libya.”
There was a howl from my daughter, instant tears and she turned to me, sobbing, “What did I do wrong? Why is the President so mad at me?”
Of course I was laughing, which made matters worse, and immediately called my dad, and the family has laughed about this on several occasions since. We still call her “Lib”. For years she turned the channel of the television or left the room if Ronald Reagan was on the screen; I’m betting she doesn’t vote Republican largely because of this episode, too.
But that’s the memory I’m thinking about today, the lasting impact Dad’s crazy way of renaming all of us still has on our lives. So much better than remember those hospital days.