He seems, in retrospect, to have been vaguely mythical, and yet he was more a part of my own foundation than anything else. He was the voice of kindness and a keeper of grammar and manners in an eroding society. He was always and unfailingly a gentleman, a great storyteller, a wit and a poet. Educated in the classics,  he was also a Marine officer who spent 5 months on Guadalcanal, and defended China in the years after the war.

He was my father, and unlike many of my peers, I knew exactly how exceptional he was from toddlerhood.

Born in 1918 in New York City on Manhattan Avenue, he lost his mother in 1919, when she died giving birth to his brother. He grew up in Forest Hills and Garden City, NY; went to Chaminade High School in Mineola, and graduated with its fourth class. He went to college at Villanova and William and Mary, graduating from the latter in 1940.  He became a Marine in 1941, and landed on Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division on August 7, 1942. He was a Marine lieutenant, captain, and major for the next few years and would remain in China during the post-war defense campaign.

He met my mother in Garden City after the war, and they married in 1951 and joined the exodus of veterans buying homes on LI. They bought their first and only home in Westbury, NY, in 1953, where my mother died in 2008, and my father passed away four months later.

In short, he lived through the some of the most influential stages of the American 20th century: the 1920s, the Depression, World War II, and the great GI homecoming and baby boom. He held his stately and conservative ground through the 1960s, and dealt with the surreal tides that changed his daughters, his career, and his cultural world. He dealt for the first time with unemployment and a disastrous economy in the 1970s. He handled advancing age and heart attacks, kidney stones, a quadruple bypass and a pacemaker through the 1980s and 1990s, and watched the towers fall in 2001. He held on until his 90th birthday, but losing my mother in 2008 was too much for him. He died four months after she did.

But what a legacy he left his daughters. He taught me to play baseball better than any boy on our block, and tennis as well. He used to race with me in 100-yard dashes when he was well into his fifties. He came to my lacrosse games and the football games that when I was a cheerleader in high school. He rescued and nurtured foundling kittens, baby bunnies and birds, and stray dogs. He corrected our grammar at every turn, and made us listen to George and Ira Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Ferdi Grofe, Rodgers and Hart, Puccini, Debussy, and classical composers, even when we were rolling our eyes and pretending to sleep.

I remember when he commuted to Union Carbide in NYC, and wore crisp seersucker suits in the summer, and grey Brooks Brothers wool in the winter. We all still laugh about his polished, meticulously kept wing tip shoes. He was regularly appalled by the state of his children’s leather shoes, and insisted on polishing our shoes from kindergarten through high school (and that extended into adulthood, for me).

What I appreciated most were his gifts of literacy and literature, in the form of good grammar and good reading, and the writers he introduced me to at such a young age. I was reading James Thurber, E.B. White, Oscar Levant, P.G. Wodehouse, Ring Lardner, and others by the age of eight.  I grew up with a rabid appreciation for the writers of The New Yorker, and began reading other writers through those connections. I read the poetry he suggested, and was 21 when I learned that my favorite poem, Thanatopsis, had also been his father’s favorite poem.

Because I loved dogs (and animals), like him, I read all the books of Alfred Payson Terhune, by the time I was seven. I devoured dog books as a child, learning breeds and traits. I watched him train our German Shepherd, win her respect, (and mine) and learned how to relate to dogs through him. Thirteen years later, I watched him lift her into the car and drive her to the veterinarian’s office for her last visit. It was worse for him than for any of us, I suspect.

It occurs to me now that I share so many of his interests; a reason we got along so well through all stages of life. I didn’t have to grow into an appreciation of my father; I knew he was exceptional, always.

We kept up our friendship and mutual respect all through my life. We talked authors and debated grammar and writing style and politics, and compared notes on music. I remember being so proud to escort my parents to Carnegie Hall on the 100th anniversary of Gershwin’s birth for a concert. Gershwin was a topic on which we heartily agreed, and we couldn’t talk enough. He mailed me articles on music from the New York Times; I mailed him articles back. While working as an book editor, I called him regularly for clarification on the fine points of grammar distinction; something that I think made him proud.

I miss him now, but I remember thinking when he died how lucky I was to have such a singular parent. I never had to be a “type” of person for him to be proud. Like him I had elements of athlete and activist; scholar and socialite; poet and banker. It was enough that I could be all things, combined. Like him, I acquired the gift of speaking to anyone and feeling comfortable in conversation. I didn’t have to become a wife or mother to win his respect.

Not a man for accolades or rewards, the greatest compliment he could give me came so close to the end of his life. We were celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary in Rhinebeck, NY. While at dinner, my father said to me that he couldn’t believe how “self-reliant and confident” I was. How I could walk away from a good job (a vice presidency at a major investment bank) and take a job as an assistant at a regional theater. I was always sure that the next step would be better. And it always was. He said “I don’t know where you get this confidence and assuredness from.”

I realized then and now, that he underestimated what an exceptional upbringing and a remarkable standard that he and my mother provided. I miss him often now, but I also feel that I carry so much of him in me that he never left.