I was sitting on Daddy’s lap by the Shabbat table. Shabbat is a day of rest, when we acknowledge that we did not create, nor do we run, this world, and we focus on our connection to our true Creator. This is a day when we luxuriate in the beauty and pleasure of the physical world while thanking G‑d for choosing to share this abundance with mankind in general, and for choosing to give us Jews His Torah.

I don’t know if I knew that then. I just knew that all the special, tasty dishes that Mummy made were left for Shabbat; that Daddy would be with us for all the meals on Shabbat; that the whole family would sit around the dining-room table on Shabbat; that the table was laid with our best crockery, cutlery and glasses; that we all had time for each other; that we wore our prettiest clothes; that each Friday, Daddy brought home bags full of treats to be saved for Shabbat. I loved Shabbat.

His precisely cut, half-moon thumbnail made a little indentation on the pageSo I was sitting on my daddy’s lap while we were all singing zemirot. That was another delight of our Shabbat meals. We would sing zemirot, songs celebrating the preciousness of Shabbat. Sometimes the tunes would race, sometimes my big brothers and sisters would harmonize with each other, and sometimes we would giggle at a merry chorus. Daddy was marking the tune rhythmically with his hand. Up and down it went, and each time it landed on my opened prayerbook, his precisely cut, half moon thumbnail made a little indentation on the page.

I remember those moments, sitting there on my daddy’s lap watching the thumbnail marks gradually spreading over the page. That piece of time is crystallized in my memory. I can still replay the fascination with the idea that those thumbnail marks were creating a permanent presence in my prayerbook; that some essence of Daddy was infused in those rhythmical indentations.

I wish I had a clearer picture of those moments. I can fill in much of the surroundings: describe the room, the table, Daddy’s special chair, Mummy, my brothers and sisters. I can make up a complete picture from my knowing, but not from my feeling. I can’t put myself wholly there; I can’t relive, re-feel what it was like to be on Daddy’s lap. I can only know that I had some sort of “history in the making” experience as I watched my prayerbook absorb those thumbnail imprints into its being.

How many times have I looked over that now-yellowed page? How many times have I tried to extract the secrets from those taunting half-moon furrows? Who was he, what was in his mind then, what did he think of me? How many times have I tried, through those perceptible live physical realities, to conjure up just a teeny peep of the daddy lost to me as my childhood waned into teenagehood at the tender age of fourteen? So I have lost his presence, but what did he infuse into those thumbnail marks that are still very much with me?

His fingernails were so precisely cut. His clothes were so perfectly in tune with his status as a family doctor: three-piece suit in the winter, two-piece suit in the summer. He drove around in his staid black car to the house calls, sometimes taking my sister and me with to visit the “old dears.” They loved him, his elderly patients. He brought warmth, caring and life into their dreary, musty abodes full of photographs, memories and silence. We brought chatter and sweetness, creating a new moment to treasure amidst the monotony of their lives. His doctoring; his caring; his going out in rain, shine or snow day by day to surgery, to house visits—did he put all of that into the thumbnail prints?

Did those indelible prints teach me the value of caring and responsibility? He died of a heart attack while on his way to examine a patient in the local hospital where he volunteered once a week. Did those indelible prints teach me the value of caring and responsibility? He used to declare, “I’m on the side of truth and justice”; if I lift that page of my prayerbook to my ear, will I hear the call, as if it were a seashell bringing me the sounds of my father?

I now use my prayerbook day by day, to keep up and strengthen my relationship with G‑d while trying to make my specific and unique mark on this universe. My daddy had left his mark in that prayerbook. His thumbnail prints covered a page filled with words of praise and thanks to my Creator. As I sat on my father’s lap, he sang those words in his deep, joyful voice, helping me cement my own connection with my Judaism.

I still can see my daddy going to the synagogue morning, afternoon and night; I see him again in his tallit (prayer shawl), its colored stripes reminding him of his connection to his Creator in the heavens, and its tzitzit (fringes) with their knots and strings reminding him of the 613 commandments of the Jews. I watch Daddy going to a Torah class even after a long day’s work. I close my eyes and think about sitting with Daddy in synagogue on Friday nights when I was little, while outside, the dark and frightening night roamed. Inside I felt warm, nurtured and safe, surrounded by the familiar tunes carrying me towards the well-loved Shabbat.

Those grooves that Daddy bequeathed to me in my prayerbook remind me that for Daddy, as for every Jew, our connection to G‑d grows with every minute and with everything we do. My daddy taught me how to recognize my Father in every aspect of my life.

So as I continue to lead my life without my father physically present, I will continue extracting the precious nectar from his thumbnail prints, which remind me who I am and who I want to be.