The night our father went missing, my sister hung out in her bedroom, reading “The Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn. Dad had given her the book, and she figured reading it might help bring him home.
That was 46 years ago (or will be, this coming Saturday). This morning, in an email, she told me she’d been reading it again.
“Maybe Dad will come back now,” she added.
“Sure,” I responded. “Just in time to lose his shit over the Coronavirus.”
Debby and I were 13 and 14 when Dad died. There’s a lot that kids don’t understand about their parents at those ages. Because of the way he died, there was more than a lot we didn’t understand and separately went looking for as adults. We got to know him through the artifacts he left behind (the ones Mom didn’t give away before we snapped them up), and stories from people who knew him.
About two of Dad’s attributes though – that he was a sports fanatic and a hypochondriac – we never needed to consult anyone.
When home and not in his study, Dad’s favorite hangout was the basement rec room. Settled on the cream-colored sofa with the buttons (a hot ticket now, being a mid-century modern classic, but then just dowdy old yesterday’s furniture news), he’d be watching whatever sporting event was on TV at that moment. Baseball, football, basketball, hockey. He loved them all, and never cared who won.
“I just hope it’s a good game,” he say. Unless, of course, one of the teams was from Boston. In that case, he’d hope for a good game that Boston won.
The hypochondria showed itself in different ways. Dad was an omniverous reader. His books, some of which I own, have notes in the margins and are stuffed with newspaper and magazine clippings he thought relevant to the material at hand.
Many dealt with health matters, and our family lived what he read. We ate lean meats and vegetables at every dinner in the 1960s. Dad in front of the bedroom mirror doing his deep knee bends and stretching was just part of the regular morning routine, as were his daily walks. When we got sick, Mom did the heavy lifting taking care of us. Dad wasn’t up for catching anything.
I’ve often wondered what he’d make of the changes he’s missed over the decades since his death – personal computers, cell phones, social media, politics. I’m pretty sure where he’d be politically, although I don’t know which Democrat he’d want to end up on the November ballot. If I had to guess, I’d pick Warren, because she’s from Massachusetts.
But there’s no mystery about where he’d be when it comes to the Coronavirus. Born roughly 10 years after the Flu Pandemic of 1918, our parents grew up when polio, measles and other childhood diseases were a fact of life. Today, Dad would be a curious basket case, seeking out and reading everything he could find out about the virus, its spread and anything he could do (apologies to Sholem Aleichem) “to keep it far away from us.”
It’s been interesting to note the hysteria around the virus and not be hysterical. I know it has the potential to do massive damage. But the way Dad died – going missing for nearly two months before his body was found with all that involved, and all that came after – has left me with a strong sense of what I can and cannot control.
World leaders used to getting their way are having a rough adjustment to an adversary that can’t be reasoned with or bullied. The rest of us, more used to going along and getting along, are better equipped to handle this crisis.
I have no idea how widespread the Coronavirus will become, or how long – if at all – it’s going to be before it joins the list of other previously new infectious diseases to which we’ve become relatively innured. I work in a public library and have not a shred of doubt that if it comes here, I will be in the path of transmission. I hope we can stay open, because people will need information.
All of this is beyond my control.
Here’s what’s not: Good hygiene and self-care. Washing my hands – a lot and well. Not touching my eyes, nose or mouth. Sneezing into my elbow. Keeping hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes close by. Making sure I get enough sleep, nutritious food and exercise. I don’t know if that last will make a difference, but as I’m sure Dad would agree – if he were here to comment – it can’t hurt.