This morning I went to the funeral of Mr. F., who was generally known as Al, but since he was my boyfriend's father, I never thought of him that way. For ten years he was kind, sweet, almost childlike Mr. F., always smiling and holding hands with Mrs. F. as if they were teenagers.
Even after the difficult ending of my relationship with his son, Mr. F. still came to my concerts. He particularly loved the ones at Christmas, and looked forward to the end when he could sing along with the carols. As S. said in a moving eulogy, it was awkward that he always sat in the front row, but no one complained because we knew he wanted to get as close as possible to being on stage. He loved Bach as much as silly pop songs (he wrote a few, as well, with names like "Plum Loco" and "Coney Island Hot Dog") and, as I learned today, even sent them to Tony Bennett. No luck, and so he turned to silly poetry instead, a handful of which I was honored to receive on holiday cards over the years.
He didn't come to the Christmas concert in 2002, but was right up front in 2003, the last time we saw each other. I cried after our conversation at the reception. I wasn't sure why. He seemed very frail and sad, but still offered a big, open smile. He looked right at me and took my hand, and told me how happy he was that I was doing well. There was something more in his words that I didn't understand, but I was so glad he was there.
At the funeral, listening to the hapsichordist play Bach inventions and hearing the rabbi talk about Al as a stalwart of the Sunday morning minyan, I thought about many Passover seders at the home of Mr. and Mrs. F., with S., his brother and, at various times, grandmother, aunts and uncles, cousins, and in-laws. A big family, jokes, singing--it was a new experience, very different from my father sitting at the table speedreading the Haggadah, or my mother and I ignoring the rituals because we felt funny doing them by ourselves, and pretending that we didn't care. No one seemed to mind that I wasn't really a member of the family. They let me in, completely (well, all but S.--but that's another story), and the jokes and melodies became mine, too. I owe my first really good impressions of Judaism to that nice, dysfunctional group and those seders, and especially to Mr. F.
And in their Brooklyn living rooom, with its long, low couch from the 50s that eventually would sit in my own living room, after some serious reupholstery, and the bright yellow walls and rumble from the el outisde, I first listened to The Swingle Singers. S. had played me some old LPs, but I paid little attention until I saw Mr. F. even more excited and obsessed by this odd music than his son. We tried singing through a few of his carefully preserved octavos. I had learned to love this stuff in college, but didn't realize how much fun it could be until I saw Mr. F.'s look of bliss as he ba-da ba-da ba'd his way to the end.
Mr. F. was my proof that there are gifts to be discovered even in the worst situations, and that one can always benefit from some more childlike wonder. I'll miss him very much.