R.I.P. to the man who taught me "Behind Every Art there is a Craft"

I decided I wouldn’t post again until I had news.

Well, I have news.

The first is a bit of writing I had to do earlier this month—my father’s obituary. (I wrote most of it. The funeral home did the part about the funeral arrangements and in-lieu-of-flowers.) You should read it before going on to the rest of this post.

If you’re wondering what branch of mathematics his Ph.D. was in, so am I. I couldn’t find it on UMCP’s Web site. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of central database of Ph.Ds. And of course I never heard about it from him because my father was one of the few people in academic history to get a Ph.D. and never brag about it once.

Here are some other things I left out:

• The straw hat he always wore when it was sunny out, along with the sweaters he wore whenever it was a little bit chilly. (He was cool in the way that only people who live their lives entirely without reference to standards of coolness can be cool.)

• The long and ultimately successful war of liberation he waged (with some help from me) against the Boston ivy and multiflora roses that once occupied the back and sides of the yard.

• His complete inability to lie to anybody on any subject. This must have made him a joy to be around during the various faculty-staff disputes on campus.

• He taught me, “Behind every art there is a craft.” (This wasn’t actually aimed at me. This was when the orchestra was working with a new composer who didn’t know what she was doing and kept writing parts that were outside the range of the instruments she gave them to. But I’ve found a useful principle as a writer.)

I haven’t cried once since he died. (Which seems fitting—he never could stand tears.) It’s just this overcast feeling I get every time I think of something he might like or something I’d like to tell him about.

I know you’re never supposed to take anybody for granted because you never know how long they’ll be around. But in my family, we usually live long and die slow, fading to flatline over the course of ten years or more. He’d been in decline for over six months, but I thought there’d be more time.

What I’m supposed to say at this point is that I wish I’d had more time to talk about how I cared for him. Honestly, though, we could have had a thousand years and we never would have gotten around to talking about our feelings. Dad and I were liberals and feminists in our politics, but poster boys for toxic masculinity in our interactions with each other. I wish things had been otherwise between us.

But he did ask for me, near the end. And while I didn’t finish Locksmith’s War in time to show it to him (and at that point, I’m not sure he could have read it anyway) I did get home in time to talk to him and tell him how it ends. I think he appreciated that.

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