My dad was a reader. My whole life, he had a book in his hand and we had full shelves in our house. He loved classics and war novels and history and fiction and mysteries. I became a reader too. We made countless trips together to bookstores and the library over the years, and he introduced me to many of his favorite authors. Among them was Herman Melville and he particularly loved the book Moby Dick. At his repeated recommendation, I tried to read it. I swear I picked up that book at least three times but could not get into it.
Sometime in the last year, I had a premonition that my dad wasn’t going to live much longer. He was sick and he was trying so hard to get better but it wasn’t going well. I made a resolution that when he died, I would read Moby Dick. I think I needed a tribute in advance.
On the morning of August 1st, I was awakened by a phone call from my step-mom that she couldn’t wake up my dad. I went to their house immediately and stayed with her while the police and the coroner, and eventually the mortuary folks came. Later that day, looking at my dad’s bookshelves, I remembered my plan to read Moby Dick. Now it was time.
Also later that day, my birth father called from New York and left a voicemail. I love him, I love talking to him, and I knew I would call him back as soon as I could, but I had this feeling of mild awkwardness. It felt strange to think about calling my birth father back to tell him that my dad died. There’s a sentence maybe not a lot of people say: “Dad, my dad just died.”
When I did talk to my dad—New York Dad – I told him about the Moby Dick commitment. He said he has read it two or three times and loves it. That was cool to hear. I bought it on Kindle while I was on the phone with him and started reading that night.
Isn’t it funny how you can pick up a book and it does nothing for you, then another day -- another year -- it’s entirely different? I don’t believe this is the same book I couldn’t slog through in the past. Only two chapters in I can perceive why Las Vegas Dad liked it so much and several passages have reminded me of New York Dad. There’s some great balm in this, to have one book connected to both dads.
And I need a balm right now. One dad just died and I left the other one in New York two weeks ago. It was a 2,770-mile road trip from New York to Nevada via Tennessee. I drove mile after mile relishing the scenery and pondering my old family, my new family, and where I belong and how. Those miles passed too quickly. I can’t get everything figured out and no amount of miles could make it easier to be without the father I just met. Similarly, no number of years makes it easier to say goodbye to the father who raised me.
So I’ll read Moby Dick, of all books, and think about these two fathers. They have more in common than Melville, including boating and woodworking and art. (We won’t talk about politics or women.) They also have plenty of differences, but those don’t stand out as much. For my purposes, it means everything that they read. And that they had me.