The day I received my "you've won!" email from The Listserve, I was sitting in a hospital room with my father, in the last days of his life, checking emails on my phone to distract myself from counting his breaths. I started to write about what that was like, but I didn't even know yet at the time. It was surreal.
I tried again to write after he passed away on New Year's Day. But it was too soon, and those moments were too precious, and terrifying, to share with anyone else.
It's been seven months or so, and I made it through Father's Day with a few glasses of vodka, and today, his birthday, the day after the 46th anniversary of our first landing on the moon, I sat on the grass next to his grave and drank a couple of Budweisers. We're a Budweiser family.
And now I sit, writing about him, listening to Sinatra at the Sands. I know all the words, even the talking parts. (If you want a window of understanding into the casual racism of the early 60’s, give his monologue on that album a listen.)
When I was born, in New York, my father worked for Grumman, on the lunar module. I was just a few weeks old when he woke me up and sat me on his knee in front of our tiny black-and-white console television to watch man's first steps in another world. This was one of many things about my father that made me proud, caused me to boast. But he would always slow my roll. I was just one of tens of thousands working on that project, he would say. Just a guy in a cubicle. I just worked on just one very small part.
But of course he was proud of himself for being a part of history. Would you like to guess how many times we visited the Lunar Module display at the Museum of Science and Industry? Or toured the Kennedy Space Center? Stood on the beach in Florida and watched a trail of fire into the night sky? Don’t bother. I’m sure you’re smart, but you can’t count that high.
Just a guy in a cubicle, he would say.
My father and I had some favorite things in common. The tail end of a hot day by the ocean, I would sit, unable to will myself to go up and inside, and he would appear by my side and hand me an icy cocktail and we would sit together, silent, watching and listening to the surf until someone called us up for dinner.
Other things. Lightning. Stories. Laughter.
Family. Friendship. Loyalty. The value of hard work. Expectations. Goals.
There are a few things that I learned from him that I didn’t understand until he was gone. Like, anger is nearly always just a side affect of fear and anxiety. And death can be accepted and rejected at the same time. And that he was proud of me.
The truth is that we are all just a guy in a cubicle. Whatever machine of which we are a cog, we are connected in unfathomable ways to parts of the world that we might never see. Every moment of kindness, of gratitude, of selflessness, of hard work, of anger, of hatred, of intolerance, of selfishness—these things will ripple, for a moment, for a thousand lifetimes, through a room or through the universe. We all know this.
Each one of us is just a guy in a cubicle. Sending a man to the moon.
Happy Birthday, Dad.