Every father is a son; while it is an obvious fact, I understood it anew in 2013. That year, I had a run-up to Father’s Day that tangled the two ideas. It began when my son phoned me about 10 days before his expected college graduation. He was terribly sick—a 104° fever had him vomiting continually—but he was required to show his final project for film class the next day: show it or don’t complete the course in time to graduate. His advisor also surprised him with a question about being one credit short for graduation…I told him that I’d be there in the morning. At 8:00 a.m. I was in the car headed to New York; at 10:00 I was on the phone with his counselor; at 11:00 I was with my son; at 6:00 we walked to the Heimbold Center and showed his film; and at 6:20 a gaggle of students applauded the film. I drove home at about 8:00 p.m., crawling in Friday-night G.W. Bridge traffic, wondering, “Is this what it means to be a father?”
Suddenly, I was playing in my head a scene of my youth: my father called an 8-year-old me into the kitchen and asked sternly, “Did you take soda from Harry’s Market?” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. “No!” I said. My brother had just come from Harry’s Market where the owner had told him a story about how I tried to steal a case of soda! My brother was appropriately shocked and came home with the news. My father took me at my word—the truth—and loaded me into the car. “I don’t want Harry making these accusations!” my father said to me and anyone else who might hear him. My father led me to the store counter where Harry stood. “Is this the boy you saw stealing the soda?!?” my father demanded.
“I didn’t see him, it was my son who saw him,” he answered.
“Get your son!” my father demanded next.
The son was soon in front of us to recount and recant his story to say that it was a boy “who looked like” me…but it wasn’t me. My father was livid. He turned to Harry. “You accused my son in front of my other boy’s friends! You’d better get your facts straight next time,” he said. “You can steal my money, but don’t steal my good name!” my father paraphrased Shakespeare’s Iago…he always had a quote ready to make his point.
All I knew was that my father was a warrior on my behalf that day and I liked to think that I’d been the same for my son.
Ten days later when my son graduated, we went to a celebratory dinner in White Plains. For the daily special, the server announced the seasonal soft-shelled crabs, my father’s favorite dish. Being a good son, to honor my father on my son’s big night, of course, I ordered the soft-shelled crabs and ate them with relish.