The Dad of Intentions
My dad wasn't the same at the end. That's not how I want to remember him.
When friends or relatives complimented his business success with the words, “Thank God, you did so well,” he’d respond with a smile, saying, “No, don’t thank God, thank Bob.”
One time, my dad, my five siblings and I crowded into an elevator in Manhattan. As the lone other passenger moved aside to make room, my father exclaimed, “Hey kids, do you know who this guy is? It’s Yogi Berra! The great Yankees catcher and manager of the Mets!” Even at age 10 I could see that this man was not as pleased to see us as my dad was to see him.
“Mr. Berra, my kids would love your autograph,” my dad said, as he pulled out a pen from his pocket. Berra scowled, shaking his head no.
Never one to be deterred, my father pushed the emergency stop button. “Hey! What are you doing?” the baseball legend groused.
“Now, Mr. Berra, is this any way to respond? You are a hero and a role model for kids. You have a responsibility to behave better—to let kids know they matter, that you care. Is this how you want my children to remember you?” We knew my dad wasn’t going to stop until Berra agreed.
“All right already! You’re tougher than Casey Stengel,” he said with a laugh as he took hold of the pen and signed his name on what looked like one of Dad’s intention cards.
I miss that dad.
Yet, after his death in 2015, when my siblings and I reminisced, we found ourselves returning first to our most recent memories—of our sick, unhappy father. As if we had not only lost our father but also the memories of the buoyant man who taught us that anything was possible as long as we believed in ourselves. Suddenly that store of intention cards, always promising us into the future, was blank.
His question to Yogi Berra still resonates: “Is this how you want my children to remember you?”
I want to remember my dad as he was in his prime—a father who relentlessly believed in whatever it was we dreamed of and pursued. That’s what he would want. I don’t want his last years to cast a shadow on my memory of him, or on my own life going forward.
I can’t bring my old dad back, no matter my intention, but I can choose how I remember him. Today, in my wallet, there are several intention cards with aspirations and dreams waiting to happen.
Kerry Leddy Malawista is a writer and psychoanalyst with offices in McLean. She is a co-author of Wearing My Tutu to Analysis and Other Stories (2011) and editor and author of The Therapist in Mourning: From the Faraway Nearby (2013), both with Columbia University Press.