I know the word for "hundred-year-old person" is "centenarian," not centurion. But so my dad seems to me: a leader and a special kind of warrior, a fighter against darkness, sadness, and despair. He would have been 100 years old today, but he died of leukemia at 69, just two years into our marriage. Yet for the next three decades, he has exemplified what Camus declared: "In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."
I have written often of my dad, a briliant handyman and sort of patron saint of the Crazy Stable, which he never saw. He was born to a pianist and an artist on Manhattan's Upper West Side on this day in 1917. A plump and mischievous little boy grew into a handsome and somewhat aimless young man, a championship swimmer who shrugged off college and drifted among jobs in various fields, including resorts and retail.
Like so many other young men of his "Greatest Generation," World War II gave his life sudden purpose. As an Army MP, he made sharpshooter, and conscientiously guarded his president, FDR, at Hyde Park, then served in Reconstruction Japan. There, stationed approximately midway between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, could he have been exposed to radiation that would shorten his life by decades compared to his father and siblings, who all lived to be nearly 100? We'll never know. He brought home a kimono and a handful of Japanese coins, which I have to this day, and a GI phrasebook he memorized for life. He taught me to say arigato and to stand at attention and "at ease," and to properly fold an American flag.
After the war, he got a business degree on the GI Bill, and married the love of his live after an epic 15-year courtship. His sunny nature and chivalry carried my mother above the dark, tormented undercurrents of her nature and her past. Through her (and Fulton Sheen), he came to the Catholic Church as an adult convert, his personality drawn to and reflected in Christ's. Quentin Roland Becker was baptised in St. Paul's Church in Manhattan and became Richard Quentin Becker; old friends and my mother called him "Quen," while business associates called him "Dick." He settled down in the insurance industry, became a dad.
And as a dad, he shared with me so many things he loved: Gardening. Classical music. Science. Nature walks. But most of all, he taught me how to be happy. Or rather, how to choose to be happy--by turning outward, helping others, laughing gently at oneself. By "lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness."
I wonder what he would be like at 100. No, actually, I don't. However diminished in body or mind, he would be invincible summer. Today, on his hundredth birthday, my garden--having bloomed in glorious warmth--was socked with heavy, wet snow. Every tender bloom that had opened has prevailed, and now the sun is out again. These photos are my gift to him.
Miniature narcissus, battered but unbowed. My dad planted spring bulbs all around our childhood home in Little Neck; every spring, their resurgence seemed like a miracle for which he was personally responsible.
Up in the Poconos, Daddy would get out his folding army shovel and a garbage bag and dig out a mountain laurel in the woods, to nurture into bloom back in the city. Up in Maine, I rescued "Baby Groot" here as a tiny sapling from under another white spruce, and he's growing like a weed.
Crocus around my garden owl, which is actually a memorial mini-garden to our owlish gray cat Cocobop. Daddy was an epic rescuer, with needy stray cats and kittens drawn to him as if by magic.
Decades before foraging became fashionable, Daddy, ever a Boy Scout, taught me which weeds in a vacant lot were edible, like butter-and-eggs, pepper grass, and (above) onion grass, and I would dutifully nibble them. This always horrified my mother, who preferred her produce from a nice clean supermarket.
Sleeping lilac buds.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. --Memorial acclamation, Roman Rite of the Mass