"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Since You’ve Been Gone

For most of us, death will not announce itself with a blare of trumpets or a roar of cannons.  It will come silently, on the soft paws of a cat.  It will insinuate itself, rubbing against our ankle in the midst of an ordinary moment.  An uneventful dinner.  A drive home from work.  A sofa pushed across a floor.  A slight bend to retrieve a morning newspaper tossed into a bush.  And then, a faint cry, an exhale of breath, a muffled slump.

Pat Jordan, “A Ridiculous Will”

My father died on this day two years ago.  He was at home with his wife.  They were getting ready to watch their favorite TV show.  He had just eaten his favorite pasta dish.  He slumped over in his chair and that was it.  He officially lasted until the next day but really that was when he left us.


I always imagined that he would have a dramatic death.  He was a big-hearted and volatile man.  He was unafraid to get into it with, well, virtually anyone.  I saw him kick the hub cap off a moving vehicle that had cut us off on West End Avenue and 79ths street, and was with him when he pulled a vandal out of a parked car.  I thought he’d die in a pool of blood.  I worried about it constantly.  But he left quietly.

I think about him less now.  Of course, I still think about him but I am not consumed with it as I was for the first year after he died, when his absence was acute.  Almost every block in the city, certainly on the Upper West Side where he lived, holds a memory, some happy, others not so much, of the old man.  I miss his stories, I miss asking him questions about the theater and the Dodgers and Damon Runyon.

But I don’t miss how tough he was on me, or the fact that even as an adult, I felt anxious around him.  I don’t miss how competitive he was with me, and I don’t miss worrying about his financial state.  When he was alive, I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t afraid of him, even if it was on a subtle or subconscious level. 

I feel relief now that he’s not around. I loved him very much and the feeling was mutual.   He was proud of me, he was proud all of his kids, as well as his neices and nephews.   He and I buried the hachet long before he died and I tried my best to accept and love him for who he was not what I wanted or needed him to be when I was a kid.  Like most parents, he did the best that he could.

But I don’t compare myself to him these days.  I am my own man. I remember his warmth and compassion, his laugh and his righteous indignation, and that for all his flaws he was a good man.  I’m proud to be his son.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 14, 2009 1:28 pm

Dig the 1970s photo I found...The necklace that he's wearing is around my neck today.

2 ny2ca2dc   ~  Jan 14, 2009 1:57 pm

Alex is that you just peeking into the lower left corner, wearing a red long-sleeved shirt with your hand on his knee?

And also, that couch is pure NYC 70's, I can't even count how many second-cousin-once-removed and great-aunt/uncle's have(/had) one like it!

3 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 14, 2009 2:05 pm

No, I think that was a friend from a birthday party maybe. Yeah, bro, I LOVED that couch.

4 unmoderated   ~  Jan 14, 2009 2:10 pm

nice, man.

my grandmother is getting close, and I am constantly trying to prepare myself.
"This is how it's gonna feel; don't be surprised, be strong, the family is going to need you..."
I check in on her every day around lunch, and I have that split second in the car before I get out, that gut check moment to be ready for anything.

I know it sounds terrible and paranoid. It really is, I guess.

5 unmoderated   ~  Jan 14, 2009 2:12 pm

oh, and I've never told anyone about that, not even the wife, yet I felt no apprehension about blabbing away here at the Banter.


6 The 13th   ~  Jan 14, 2009 2:59 pm

[1] I have my dad's old necklace too. He wore it every day and, shortly after he died, I asked my mom if I could have it. I think she wanted to keep it for herself but she gave it to me anyway, and I've worn it every day since.

7 OldYanksFan   ~  Jan 14, 2009 3:12 pm

"I feel relief now that he’s not around. I loved him very much and the feeling was mutual."
Brutally honest, difficult to say, and I felt the same way.
God! Is it hard... or what... to feel relief at the death of a parent?
For me, I couldn't stand the constant criticism for all that I was and did. It was often non-verbal, but almost always there. Not having to seek his approval anymore was a great relief.

How sad to be left with these emotions.
How common is this?
Have I done better as a father... or is this somewhat the nature of parent/child relationships?
I'm so jealous when I meet someone (rarely) with a 'normal' realtionship with their folks.

8 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 14, 2009 4:01 pm

I feel my father's passing more and more with each year that goes by, especially now that I'm writing about *his* team so much.

He would have been 81 this past Sunday.

Fortunately, my mom is still going strong (knock on wood).

Alex .... thank you for allowing us into your world, always with such eloquence and dignity.

9 thelarmis   ~  Jan 14, 2009 4:09 pm

[4] i totally understand. my grandpa is getting close and he's my hero. i don't know what to do. i wish i could see him everyday, but i live a thousand miles away. still, i call everyday and i travel to see him quite regularly and often.

[5] i get that, too. the banter is the best!

[1] [6] my dad bought my mom this awesomely cool silver necklace about 45 years ago. i put it around my neck when i was 13 or 14 and have never ever taken it off since!!! last week when i was home, we were going thru old photos w/ my grandpa and we found a picture of my mom w/ the necklace on. it was pretty cool!

10 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 14, 2009 4:44 pm

Good story behind that necklace. My father was the production manager of a documentary shoot down in Key West in 1970-71, right around the time I was born. Some diver had been searching for a sunked treasure chest from a Spanish ship for years and finally he found it. I think there is a museum dedicated to it and everything. The guy gave my dad two pieces of silver from the chest, including that necklace, which I leaned on him to give to me when I was in college.

So he gave it up. And when I broke up with my first love, my college sweetheart, I gave it to her. Later, I regretted it. I fell out of touch with her over the years but had some mutual friends and I contacted her after my dad died.

I asked if she still had the necklace would she mind returning it? The worst she could say was no, and I wouldn't have blamed her no matter what she said. Two days after I touched base with her, the necklace arrived in the mail "to its rightful owner," as she said.

I haven't taken it off since. Pretty classy move on her part, wouldn't you say?

I don't think there is anything wrong with feeling relief after someone is gone. It may make us feel guilty at first, but it's an honest emotion, even if it exposes our own nuerosis at what "looks appropriate."

I think the thing is, to tell people that we love that we love them, appreciate them, as often as we can because whether it is a grandmother, parent, spouse or child, tomorrow isn't guarenteed for anyone and it's important to let people know how you feel.

Least that's how I see it.

11 66 again   ~  Jan 14, 2009 7:56 pm

You're fortunate to have known your dad as a man. Mine died, as suddenly, when I was 20 and just coming into true manhood.

My wife never knew him and wishes she had. At least yours did.

I have nothing of his that I can use or wear everyday.

On the other hand, I didn't fear him, although I certainly wanted his approval.

After 40+ years, I still think of him, see his face in my memory and wish he had stayed around longer.

While they still played in NY, we were Giants fans and the Polo Grounds was our home away from home. Just thinking what a kick it would be to be able to see a ballgame with him now. On the other hand, he would be turning 100 and the Stadium might be a bit difficult for him to negotiate.

Thanks for the memories.

12 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 14, 2009 8:36 pm

[11] Dude, you and I should talk...

Today's Uncle Woodrow's birthday, and more and more I feel the dread of losing him; especially as he has outlasted all of his other siblings, save one who's much younger. He still has the spark; he's one of the most easy-going, yet passionate people I've ever met, and a great storyteller. I try very hard to glean as much as I can about family and just how to approach life in general, as he seems to have had a good handle on it under the circumstances. I would write about him on my site, but I'm just superstitious enough to hold off. I miss Mom and I miss Dad. I don't want to miss a thing with him.

Alex, I feel you. Hang in there, man. (wowzers, given the accompanying quote, I'm not sure exactly how to take the title of the book >;)

13 Rich Lederer   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:07 am

Well done, Alex. Thanks for sharing.

I hadn't realized that it has been two years. Sounds like you are dealing with the loss of your dad well. I know he would be proud of you for marrying Emily shortly after his death and your continued success.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver