11.19.38 - 4.30.12

1. He loved crossword puzzles.
2. He was born and raised in Queens, NY.
3. He loved roadsters and convertibles.
4. When I was 17, things were really bad for me at home. My brother was out of control, my mother was drinking incessantly, and my grades were starting to suffer. So for my last year of high school, he moved from San Diego back to Scottsdale so that I could live with him, successfully graduate, and generally enjoy my senior year without domestic chaos.
5. He pretended not to love animals - it was his schtick to play the curmudgeonly old man - but he really did. Especially cats.
6. Despite having raised two of them, he was clueless around babies. His idea of playing with them was to shake his keys at them.
7. When we were in Buenos Aires in 2010, he confessed to me his disappointment that I wasn't going to have kids. But he also told me he understood and didn't blame me.
8. He really, really, really listened when I spoke to him. He looked me straight in the eye and heard me.
9. He loved pistachios.
10. And coffee ice cream.
11. He was a very aggressive driver, but a very good one.
12. He'd never kill insects if he could help it.
13. When he lived in Alaska, he used to hunt caribou.
14. He was a very skilled and highly trained scuba diver. When my parents were younger, they traveled the world, and he scuba dived in nearly every ocean. Later, he'd go diving in Lake Michigan, and bring trinkets and things home to me that he'd found in the water.
15. He enlisted in the Navy when he was 16.
16. He was an impossible flirt, often to my mortification.
17. We watched The Gods Must Be Crazy at least half a dozen times, and he would laugh like it was the first time, each time.
18. He had an infectious laugh, deep but raspy. He'd often laugh himself to tears, especially around his clever, wise-cracking brothers.
19. He forgave my brother, again and again and again.
20. He bought me all the books I ever wanted, whenever I wanted them. When I was in high school, he'd let me pile up stacks of them at the bookstore. Later, I had only to mention a title I was interested in, and there'd be a package from Amazon at my door.
21. When I was a little girl, he used to let me sit in his lap and draw small emblems on his sweatshirts, with a black Sharpie. I'd ask him what kind of animal he wanted (hoping he'd say rabbit or unicorn), and he'd say cockroach or spider or fly. I'd laugh and say, "Nooo, something pretty!" and he'd insist, "A cockroach! That's what I want!" So I would carefully smooth out the fabric on his breast, then do my six year-old best to approximate a pair of beetle antennae, or eight tiny spider legs, right above his heart. I told A. about this one day towards the end, when there wasn't much left to do but wait. I said I could still remember what some of the insects I'd drawn so many years ago looked like. When I finished telling the story, he got up, walked into my dad's office, and returned with a pad of paper and a Sharpie. He set them down in front of me and said, "Show me." And I did.
22. He loved to go tubing on the Salt River. Every year until I left for college, he'd take me and one of my girlfriends, or my boyfriend if I had one.
23. He never wore sunscreen, and was very proud of how deeply he could tan.
24. He tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift, but I was impatient and frustrated, and we both gave up.
25. He lied about his age on dating websites.
26. He loved his extended family very much, and kept up with cousins, second cousins, and even further-removed members far into adulthood.
27. He grew up afraid of his father.
28. He loved cheese and yogurt, but he hated milk.
29. He loved Chinese food, but he hated Mexican.
30. When he disapproved of something, he'd frown exaggeratedly and make a deep grumbling noise in his throat.
31. He'd sing when he got drunk.
32. He loved boxed wine. He drank gallons and gallons of the stuff, as if it were water.
33. He was a pack rat, but a very neat one. When he died, I had to face down an attic stuffed to the rafters with every document he'd ever touched - but it was all perfectly organized.
34. He regularly wrote letters to his congressmen and the president.
35. He often wrote letters of complaint and commendation to companies he'd done business with.
36. He was incredibly vain about his hair, which was thick and soft, and which he let grow long enough to wear in a ponytail. When he was dying, one of the hospice nurses would comb it out for him gently before binding it back up again. He'd already lost the ability to speak, but we could tell he enjoyed that.
37. He was the most stubborn and proud man I knew.
38. He taught me to question everything and everyone, including myself.
39. When I was a little girl, we used to sing this song together.
40. This one, too.
41. He loved Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. And Crystal Gayle.
42. He was mechanically-minded and could fix almost anything.
43. He could explain how almost anything works.
44. He was vicariously vain about my looks; he often told me how proud he was, that I was pretty and fit.
45. He always called me Deborah or Deb, but never Debbie (Elizabeth is my middle name; I only started using it when I moved to LA).
46. He never once touched me in anger, or physically punished me.
47. When he was really angry at me, he'd say I was just like my mother.
48. He taught me how to ski.
49. He had the best vocabulary of anyone I'd ever met, including all of my college professors.
50. He loved the ocean.
51. When I was younger, I'd lay next to him, following along while he read Stephen King novels that I was too scared to read on my own. He'd say "ok?" whenever he got to the bottom of a page. When I caught up, I'd say "ok," and he'd turn the page for both of us.
52. In the later years, after the divorce, when my mother was at her worst, at her weakest and sickest and most unhappy, he'd help her out. He'd send her money when he could, and talk to her for hours on the phone about my brother.
53. When I was a teenager, he teased me about being flat-chested. He said once, "Not exactly a sweater girl, are we?"
54. When he found out he had cancer, he told me how proud he was of me, of the person and woman I'd become.
55. He loved to make me spaghetti. Overcooked, with sauce out of a jar and a massive amount of Kraft parmesan on top.
56. He loved to make me bagels from the freezer. Lender's garlic bagels. He'd split one, still frozen, on a plate, and carve huge chunks of Land o' Lakes whipped butter on top, then microwave it until the bagel was soft and the butter melted. To this day, I don't think I've ever had anything so delicious.
57. He loved maps. His walls were covered with them.
58. He had a master's degree in engineering.
59. When he was in his 40s, he went back to school to study pre-law. He then went on to attend law school, though he didn't finish.
60. He lived in New York, Michigan, Alaska, Arizona, California, and Florida.
61. He didn't sing along to the radio, but he'd make a curious whistling/hissing noise that drove me crazy.
62. He loved Trident gum.
63. He was a true libertarian. Not the bullshit, hateful Tea Party variety that the Republicans have appropriated and whose beliefs they've tried to skew. True, hands-off, do-what-you-want libertarianism. He believed in women's rights, reproductive freedom, and marriage equality.
64. When he was dying, he was very restless, even though he had no energy with which to move. He was always trying to sit up and hang his legs over the hospital bed; but after days of not eating, he didn't have the strength to do it. Pillows didn't provide enough support for the position he wanted to be in. So during those last days, I used to climb into the bed behind him, and use my own body to prop him up. The nurses would help me sit him up, turn him sideways, and slowly scoot him to the edge of the bed. Then I'd wedge two or three pillows between my own back and the railing, and use my chest and shoulders to support his weight. He would lean back against me, relaxing, finally calm. All he wanted was to feel his feet on the floor, just for a little bit. He couldn't speak, but he seemed happy to be exercising some control over the situation. I'd talk in a low voice, close to his ear, and tell him how much I loved him. He couldn't see the tears streaming down my face, and he didn't know how helpless I felt. He didn't know just how much strength it took for me to do that. But he seemed as content and at peace as he could be, in those moments, resting against me. Later, A. would tell me that it was the most selfless thing he'd ever seen, the way I used my body to help and hold my father. I didn't get to hug my dad goodbye, not in the traditional way. But I got to do that.
65. He regretted falling out of touch with his brothers.
66. He took every pain to make sure it would be as easy as possible for me to handle his death, logistically and financially.
67. His favorite boyfriend of mine was my high school sweetheart, JJ. For decades after, he'd ask about him, always seeming surprised when I told him, "Dad, I haven't talked to that kid in years. I have no idea how he is."
68. He grew up going to Coney Island.
69. He had a tattoo of a pair of lips on his butt cheek. He got it in the Navy as a rite of passage when he crossed the equator.
70. He loved Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood.
71. He loved, loved, loved chocolate.
72. He had a beautiful smile.
73. When he died of small cell lung cancer, he hadn't had a cigarette in his mouth for forty years.
74. He would have been seventy-four today.