Solomon sat on a chair next to the hospital bed and held his father's hand. The hand was soft and smooth, a hand that had performed fine, detailed work for more than fifty years. His father's hair was thin and white, the color drained from his skin. He looked older than his 78 years, as if he'd aged ten years since entering the nursing home with inoperable cancer.

"Dad, is there anything you want? Anything I can get you?"

His father shook his head. He could only whisper a few sentences these past few days and then had to close his eyes. It was a blessing there was no pain.

When he visited, there was little said, but much that needed to be saidA nurse's aide entered, holding a tray of food. Solomon looked at his watch. Dinnertime. The aide placed the tray quietly on the table near his father's bed and left. His father did not touch the food. He would only eat a few spoonfuls of chicken noodle soup fed to him by his granddaughter, Solomon's oldest daughter, when she visited him in the afternoons.

Solomon sighed. At fifty, he was still healthy, still strong, and still had most of his brown hair, though his beard was almost completely gray. He was a busy man and could barely find an hour every other day to visit his father. When he visited, there was little said, but much that needed to be said.

Dad, he thought, your time is coming, and I can't get out of this straight-jacket you put me in. There are words that are locked in my heart and will not form on my lips. Fifty years and we're still strangers. Half a century and we still can't talk to each other.

You wanted a life with as few challenges as possible. You worked all the time,

What were your words? You only wanted to find "the happy medium" ... and I went "looking for problems." Those were your words. You disagreed with almost everything I did, until I became successful. Then it became our inside joke. You asked what I was up to, I told you, you said don't do it, there are too many problems, and those words became your blessing to me.

Thus, by the time I was 36, I became wealthier than you, and this served to prove my worth. But it was an empty success. Who was clapping? Not you.

Dad, what is there to say? How could such different people come from the same family?

Solomon held his father's hand for almost an hour in the peaceful quiet of the nursing home. When Solomon stood up to leave, he kissed his father, and his father opened his eyes and whispered, "I love you very much."

Solomon replied, "I love you, too, Dad."

The phone rang on Friday. Solomon looked at his watch - two o'clock and he still had a few hours of "problems" to take care of. He picked up the receiver grudgingly.

"Solomon, it's Mom."

"Mom, I'm –"

"Solomon, I know you're busy… the doctor said you should come as soon as possible."

"I'll be right over."

When it felt like the rasping couldn't get any worse, his breaths became shallow and far apartWhen Solomon arrived at the nursing home, his mother was standing next to the Hope Hospice counselor. He went to his mother, and she hugged him, clung to him, cried on his shoulder. Soon she would be alone, she said. After 54 years, she would be alone. Solomon listened. He tried to speak, but the words, once again, could not be liberated from his heart.

Family members arrived in the following minutes – Solomon's wife, his brother and sister-in-law, Solomon's three children and their spouses. His father's breathing became labored and transformed into a rasping sound. When it felt like the rasping couldn't get any worse, his breaths became shallow and far apart.

"Soon," the Hope Hospice counselor whispered to Solomon's mother.

Solomon's mother leaned over and hugged his father, telling him how much she loved him, and that it was all right for him to let go. Solomon's two daughters held each of their grandfather's hands, crying, "Grandfather, we love you." Solomon's brother leaned over to hug his father and then recited prayers in Hebrew. Solomon's wife cried, while he stood stiffly, like a soldier.

With his family looking on, Solomon's father passed from this world.

Solomon went out into the hallway while the family remained in the room. They were confused, shocked, unable to function. He turned on his cell phone, called Rabbi Levy, and together they made the funeral arrangements. The burial was set for Sunday… Father's Day.

The rest of the afternoon, evening and following day was a blur to Solomon, each conversation melting into the next. Late Saturday night found Solomon alone in a room at the funeral home. His father was lying inside a plain wooden coffin. The room was lit by two memorial candles.

"Dad..." – it was okay to talk out loud to his dead father for there was no around to listen – "...I still don't know what to say to you. I want to say something honest, something that sums up the truth between you and me… there has to be more than the fact you didn't accept me, didn't feel comfortable with me, but I can't seem to wrap my thoughts around it."

There was a knock on the door.

"Who is it?" Solomon asked.

"Rabbi Levy."

The rabbi opened the door and stepped inside. He removed his black formal hat and long dark coat.

"Rabbi, you look exhausted."

"You should talk," the rabbi smiled weakly.

"I couldn't sleep, so I decided to keep my father company."

The rabbi nodded his head. They stood there in uncomfortable silence.

"Is there anything you want to discuss, Solomon?"

"No. Not really."

"Are you going to say something about your father at the funeral?"

Solomon sighed, looked at the coffin, and then back at the rabbi.


The rabbi took out a small pad and a pen. "Well, your mother wants me to say a few words. Is there anything you would like me to add?"


"No? Nothing special?"

That word grated on Solomon. "Special? There was nothing special about my father."

Rabbi Levy narrowed his eyes and drew his brows drew together.

"Don't frown at me, Rabbi."

"Solomon, he loved you very much. I saw him hug and kiss you whenever you met."

"Rabbi, in the last years of his life, he changed. But by then it was too late."

"Your mother said it was you who changed."

"Is there nothing good you can say about your father, Solomon?""Yes, I gave up ever being accepted by him. Rabbi, my father spent the first 15 years of my life punishing me whenever I did anything 'special.' The rest of the time, he worked. Many mornings I left the house without seeing him, and many nights, I went to bed without seeing him."

"So is that how you want to remember him, Solomon? Is that what you want me to tell your family and friends?"

Solomon waited a long time before he answered.

"No. But I don't want you to lie either."

"Is there nothing good you can say about your father, Solomon?"

Solomon thought for a long time.

"Okay, Rabbi. Say he could do the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, one of the most difficult crossword puzzles in the world, in ink, in about 15 minutes."

The rabbi jotted in his notepad.

"Anything else, Solomon?"

"No, that's it."

Rabbi Levy shrugged, and put his pen and pad back into his suit pocket. He looked to the coffin and whispered a blessing.

"Solomon, would you like me to stay here with you?"

"No, Rabbi. You need sleep. Go home, please."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm okay."

The Rabbi looked into Solomon's eyes for a long time as he shook his hand goodbye.

"Solomon, would you like to hear a conversation I had with your father at the hospital when he was first diagnosed with cancer?"

"I'd rather not."

The rabbi told the story to Solomon anyway. When he finished, Solomon said nothing, and the rabbi left.

It was not a long story, but it was powerful, and Solomon was good at hiding his feelings.

Solomon was the speaker, the one who made people laughAt the funeral, there were many expressions of sympathy from friends and relatives. "I'm so sorry.... Please accept my condolences.... If there's anything you need...." Solomon nodded and looked into their eyes. Their feelings were genuine.

The rabbi conducted a simple fifteen minute service, followed by a short speech. When he was finished, he turned to Solomon's family, and asked, "Would anyone like to say something?"

All eyes turned to Solomon. He was the speaker, the one who made people laugh. He also made them think, with his biting intellect, the intellect he inherited from his father who could do one of the most difficult crossword puzzles in the world, in ink, in 15 minutes.

Solomon looked away.

Solomon's mother poked him in the ribs. "Say something, Sol," she demanded.

"No, there's nothing to say. Nothing special."

His brother, Avraham, poked him on the other side. "Come on, Solly. Say something."

"No. He wanted to live a mediocre life, let him have a mediocre death."

"Solly, just get up and say the truth. You know our family. We never let love get in the way of the truth."

"Solomon?" the rabbi whispered.

Solomon sighed and stood up. He looked around and smiled weakly.

"I want to thank you all for coming out today, and helping my family say a final goodbye to our father. And, fathers, I want to especially thank you for sharing your Father's Day with us, even though I know there is no place you'd rather be on Sunday than standing in a cemetery."

A few people chuckled.

"My brother and mother, and the rabbi, pushed me into talking now. I didn't want to. The truth is, my father and I agreed on only one thing... that he was not a good father for most of his life."

The crowd of people grew silent.

"When I got older, I never let him forget it, not with words, but with coldness." "He knew he made mistakes. For one thing, he worked too hard, and his work was difficult and frustrating. Sometimes when he came home late, he was tired and angry, and the last thing he needed was an energetic kid who had his own special way of getting into trouble."

Solomon swallowed hard.

"He took his anger out on me, anger I didn't deserve. When I got older, I never let him forget it, not with words, but with coldness. I ignored him and became busy with my own life. It's easy to get busy and ignore people, if you want to. Isn't it?"

Several friends quickly looked away. The rest had looks on their faces that asked, when is the bomb going to go off?

"And then, one night, after working too hard at my own difficult and frustrating job, I came home tired and angry and... and I hit my son, my son that I love so much..."

"When I saw the look of pain on my son's face," Solomon continued, "the pain that I caused, I remembered my own pain, and my own father's mistakes, and at that moment, I finally understood him."

Solomon paused and struggled for composure. He did not want to cry. He was taught not to cry. He was taught to lock up his feelings, be strong and contained.

"I did not learn much from my father's life, other than knowing the kind of father I didn't want to be. But in the end, I learned one of life's most important lessons from him – I learned how to die."

Solomon gave up trying to control his voice.

"I watched and learned. Every time we visited him in the hospital, or the nursing home, he said, 'I love you very much,' and he meant it. This was often accompanied by, 'I am the luckiest man in the world to have such a great family.' And he meant that, too."

"When he died, he was surrounded by his family. He had the people he loved say goodbye and assure him that he would be missed."

Solomon swallowed hard. His voice was breaking, but he didn't cry.

"So, fathers, when you go home today, think of my father, and his life... and think of the people closest to you. There will come a time when you will not be there for them. Do not go to your resting place without saying what is in your heart, without showing them acceptance, and without giving the love that you have inside of you."

This story was a present from his fatherSolomon remained at the cemetery after the funeral. As he stood alone by his father's grave, his conversation with Rabbi Levy at the funeral home came back to him.

"It happened when he was first diagnosed with cancer. You left the hospital room to make a phone call to one of his doctors. Do you remember?"


There were too many conversations with doctors over the last six months to remember each one, Solomon thought.

The rabbi continued, "I said to your father, 'You know, your son is a good guy.' Your father shook his head, and said, 'No.'"

"I believe that, Rabbi," Solomon interjected.

"Wait a minute, Solomon. Let me tell you the rest of the story. I said, 'Doc, you don't think your son is a good guy?!' "

Solomon waited impatiently for the rabbi to finish.

"And your father said, 'No, Rabbi. My son is not a good guy. He's a great guy!'"

This story was a present from his father, a present that arrived fifty years late, but a present nonetheless. It was delivered through an interpreter, an angel in the form of a rabbi.

Solomon then did something, standing alone at his father's graveside, that he had not done since he was 15.

He cried.