My father died when I was 16. For years I missed him with a ferocity that grabbed me by surprise, sometimes out of nowhere, and made me gasp. I did ceremonies to ‘release him’, I went into therapy, I did all kinds of stuff and then finally realized that I didn’t want to lose my connection with him, even if it meant pain. Now I think I couldn’t lose my connection with him because he is literally in every cell, every gene of mine. Whatever small talents I have are because of him, my love of nature…him, my pride in my sons…him again. Oh, I had a monther and she was a giant in my life, but I am in every way the daughter of Julius Bernard Zimmer and the fact that I had him, albeit briefly, as my father fills me with a gratitude that I cannot fully language.
He wasn’t tall or handsome, exept to us, but there was something in his masculinity, in the certainty of his support, his good humor, his love for the world, that I have rarely seen the likes of elsewhere.
I was filled with compassion when I got old enough for the college freshman analytics of one’s parents and heard stories of distant fathers, drunk fathers, abusive fathers, intolerant fathers. ‘Who were these guys?’ I thought. ‘ How aberrant!’
My Dad loved doing stuff with us, going to the beach, on hikes, showing me how to ride a bike, telling me how to gently let down my third grade admirers, one of whom was downright obsessed. He taught me how to treat animals (kindly) and fellow humans (with respect and an open heart). To this day I miss his full throated laugh, it symbolized his passage through this life – embrace what is, love it, learn to laugh about it and at yourself. He taught me to treat all human beings with dignity and respect regardless of how irritating they were. He wasn’t racist or sexist or homophobic or ageist, rich or poor, humble or grand – a person was a person to him.
The last time I had one of these painful attacks, I was already in my thirties and about to get married. I was an actress and had just finished writing a short play, my first, and it got produced and it got, for some reason, a rave review from the L.A. Times. My best friend Susan called me that morning and just said: “Open the paper.” Then hung up.
I’m a coward, I had my boyfriend, now my husband, read the review. Awesome! I was so happy, so pleased that someone ‘got’ what I was trying to say and actually printed it out for others to read.
Then I was filled with an old, pungent ache, a sharp one because what I realized was that I wanted to pick up the phone and say to my now 15-year-passed father: “Hey, Dad. Listen to this.”
I know he would have gotten a kick out of it,not just because I was his daughter but because he was an artist. He understood.
I felt the same way when I married my husband and had my two children but by then the pain was somewhat lessened, filled instead with the great privilege and joy I had in knowing him. What remains most is the gratitude. I’ll take that.