by SETH EISENBERG
When my brother David called yesterday morning to say he had bad news, I knew our father had died before the words passed his lips.
Days earlier, dad’s health had been very much on my mind. I went so far as to check the friedfrank.com website to make sure he was still listed as one of their litigation attorneys at their Washington, D.C. office and searched Google in case there was news I’d missed.
For a moment, I thought about calling my father.
Instead I thought back to the one time in my adult life that I remembered him reaching out to me. It was December 1990. I was 29 years old, living in Israel with my former wife and then infant son. War drums were beating as the first George Bush prepared for round one with Saddam Hussein. It was considered a certainty that Iraqi missiles would soon rain down on Israel. Dad asked if I needed money to safely leave Tel Aviv.
No, I didn’t, I explained as I thanked him and politely declined. My wife and baby had already returned to her parents’ home in Ohio. After much reflection, I’d decided to stay in Israel with friends I loved and treasured. I promised I’d do my best to stay safe as dad and I said goodbye.
We saw each other less then a dozen times from the time I returned to the U.S. four years later until my wedding three years ago in Miami when he and his wife surprised me by accepting my invitation to attend. We talked even less than that by phone, although we did exchange several emails that always communicated how happy he was with his life and, especially, with his wife. I appreciated that our few written exchanges communicated, albeit briefly, at a depth I’d been unable to find when we spoke in person surrounded by others.
I’d given up on him acknowledging my birthdays long ago, although each year, especially this year when I turned fifty, I was aware of a slight hope that he’d call, send a card, or email.
He didn’t. Sadly, we didn’t have that kind of father-son relationship.
As much as I thought I should, the tears I expected after hanging up with David didn’t come yesterday or today. There’s sadness. Not so much over his death. I know he’d struggled with his health for some years after a cancer diagnosis that he beat by many years. There’s sadness that my father never got to know me, the youngest of four children of his first marriage, born just three years before he and my mom divorced in 1964.
There’s sadness that we never had the conversations I’d hoped we’d have.
There’s sadness that he died before we ever got to know each other as a father and son should know each other.
There’s much gratitude too.
So much of my own life is devoted to helping fathers stay connected with their sons and daughters, a passion surely motivated by my experiences with my own dad. Even more of my life has been devoted to being a constant source of love, encouragement and strength in the lives of my three sons, connections very much guided from a commitment to creating a very different relationship with each of them then my dad and I were able to have with each other.
I never got to know my dad’s story. Although I’m sure he had one.
I’ve learned that people most often make the best choices they can based on the options they know and the values they most cherish. I know that was true for my father too.
I also know he was a highly respected attorney and made a difference for many of his clients and the law firm where he invested his life and passions.
And I know he was a devoted husband to his beloved wife of more then 20 years.
I’m sure there is much more that I don’t know; much more that I may never know.
My faith tells me he’s in a place now where his soul is free and the physical afflictions he suffered are no more. My two oldest sons are now boarding an early morning flight to Washington, D.C. to represent our family at his burial today. By the time of the memorial service his stepson said will take place in the near future, I hope I will have made peace with dad and myself to say a final goodbye closer to his final resting place.
I’ll miss knowing my father is alive and will long wonder about the conversations we never had.
I still hope we’ll know each other one day.
Rest in peace, Milton Eisenberg.
Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in marriage and relationship education.