It was an afternoon much like this one, precisely 30 years ago, cold and as bright as a distant sun allowed, when I walked out of Mount Sinai Hospital, fatherless. Except that I wasn't. Leukemia had ended my dad's 69 years one week before Christmas--and so terribly prematurely, it seemed. I have now been without him longer than I was with him.
Yet not a day has passed that he hasn't been with me. He literally taught me how to be happy, through a humble self-forgetfulness that I can only dream of emulating. He lived a life without fame or great material gain, in the insurance industry--and managed to sanctify that unglamorous work, taking satisfaction and joy in selling policies honestly and helping men (and back then, it was always men) provide for their families after their deaths. He treated everyone, from janitors to vice-presidents, with respect and affection. He held his wife and daughter in chivalrous esteem, and his brother and sisters in unwavering filial affection. I never heard him utter a bitter or judgmental word in his life.
An adult convert to Roman Catholicism, he modeled the personality of Christ to all he met. Hours before his death, weakened by opportunistic infections, he told me he had been "contemplating the mystical body of Christ." The day he died, his doctor, scheduled to fly back to New York from Italy, was unaccountably moved to change his flight--and thus avoided being at the Air Italia desk when a terrorist bomb ripped through the airport. One year ago today, my best friend, whom he loved like his own daughter, underwent dangerous surgery--and I knew that this day, once so steeped in sorrow a week before Christmas--was an auspicious one. (And after a hellish year of treatment, she is doing well.)
Over the years, I have become convinced that a life lived in holiness burns a channel through time and space, a portal of grace; such a channel was how Therese of Lisieux sent her "shower of roses." My dad has become that portal for me. I miss him terribly and often; he was the one person in the world who made me feel truly safe. And I ask myself, safe against what?
And the answer comes back: Safe against evil. The only way I find to assuage the missing of him is to try to bring him back through the channel. He held doors for frustratingly slow walkers; smiled at cranky babies; listened patiently to the rambling tales of long-winded, lonely old men with genuine interest; fixed broken things with ingenuity; gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. When I do these things, we are together again.
Happy birthday in heaven, Richard Q. Becker. (And if you need a friend up there, ask for Quen--no one but business associates called him Richard.)