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exploring Dad

September. The days are glorious, the evenings getting cooler, the tomatoes are taking longer to ripen. We’re all moving into reality mode. I’m beginning to prepare for NYC and for teaching. And for the Big Job.

Bravely got out and opened a box marked “Dad.” Instantly swamped. My father was a voluble man who was a public figure for decades, made speeches, wrote articles, was much written about in newspapers, and he and my mother kept all of it. I mean, all of it. His last CV, which I just found, is 33 pages long, including pages of scientific articles. I found essays he wrote for his BA from City College in 1942, including “Some Notes on Music,” for which he received a 95, “Splendid.” There’s a file marked “Poetry” — doggerel he wrote throughout his life, one to my mother Sylvia, “Ode on the Sylvian Bum,” about how my mother’s bottom is always there to keep him company. 

Speeches and articles about peace and science and nuclear fallout and public education and racism and the Vietnam war and so much more. Piles and piles and piles. I want my kids and grandsons, and the reading world, to meet him — and my extraordinary mother too. Where to start? 

One of the boxes

An article from Weekend magazine, 1958, about nuclear fallout. That’s me, aged 8, eating Strontium 90-laced corn.

The man himself. A certain charisma, no?

Not to mention that my mother kept all my letters to her, and I wrote to her constantly; just unearthed another huge pile of those. Just after we bought a house: We have not had a second of doubt since we made the offer that we’ll be happy in the house for 3 or 4 or 5 years, anyway. On and on about what we love about the house in which I still happily live, 36 years later; we moved in on Sept. 1 1986.

A brief note, sent in October 1988, just after my father died; Sam had just turned four. There are typewritten lines of gibberish, and underneath I wrote, Sam asked me to read this, which he had just assiduously typed. “I think,” I said, squinting at it, “it says, My name is Sam Dobie and soon I am going to school and this afternoon I go to nursery school.”

No!” he cried. “That’s not what it says.”

“What does it say then?” I asked. He looked at it carefully.

“It says, ‘I love you, Grandma!'”

So then I stop, and remember, and celebrate, and weep a tear or two. Ah well. Bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say. I’ll keep delving and try not to drown.

I have a locker mate at the Y, a lovely woman who insisted on buying Loose Woman to take on vacation in the spring. When she got back, she didn’t say anything about the book, and I concluded that she hated it. Too much information perhaps, I surmised. Recently, inspired by the NYT life hack, “Always make the call. If you’re disturbed or confused about something somebody did, always pick up the phone,” I tentatively asked if she’d read the book, prepared to say, I understand, you hated it, no problem. 

“Oh yes, I loved it!” she said. “Just loved it. Your books always sound just like you. It was like talking to you.”

Writer John McPhee once said, “Writers come in two principle categories: those who are overtly insecure and those who are covertly insecure.” And some of us are both.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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