I have no living father to honor this Father’s Day—the fourth since my dad’s death. Yet somehow I’ve never felt closer to him, or his presence more vividly. Perhaps that’s because I’ve inherited his role as the principal male in my mom’s life—her protector, chief problem-solver, and target of complaints. (I now understand why he sometimes called me in such weary exasperation.) But the real reason I feel him around me, I think, is that as I age into greater self-awareness, I am struck by how much like him I’ve become, and always have been, and still aspire to be.
Unlike Joel Stein’s father (see The last word), my dad wasn’t in the habit of punching people. But he was ferociously protective of his family, and of anyone who needed protecting. He hated bullies and cheats. But he liked nearly everyone else. Filled with warmth, he made friends of the postman, the dentist, his co-workers, his customers—the rich and the poor. He made every single one of them laugh. My dad was hardly perfect: He had the patience of a cranky 2-year-old, and seethed when people failed to meet his high standards. He had no vocabulary for complex or negative feelings, and thus withdrew in mute incomprehension when I became a sullen, angst-filled teenager. I did not forgive his inability to reach me then, and we butted heads for years. But in any crisis, he was magnificent: capable, resolute, and unflappable. If he loved you—and he loved many people—his loyalty knew no bounds. I often fall short of his generosity and his kindness, but it’s always there as a template: He showed me how to be a man, a father, and a good human being. A father can leave no greater gift.