my father, in memoriam

In the end, this may be my favorite picture ever of my father, dancing here with my mom, my angel, my mother. It says everything you need to know. Everything all of us who knew him should remember.

At 9:46 p.m. yesterday, Frank “no middle initial” Rabey, the final child of Slavic immigrants rubbed out like so many other impoverished sweatshop nobodies under the grinding thumb of the American Dream, my father, proud veteran of America’s two disputed wars, who loved my mom above all, who worked too goddamn hard his whole life because a Depression kid never forgets, who pushed us all to understand that nothing meant more than family, died.

He did not, to be clear, “pass away,” as the polite saying goes; there is nothing polite about death. Anyway, “passing away” would have been far too easy; my father never stood for easy — you were handed nothing; you earned it all. So, yes, “died,” that ugliest of words. And as it should be. Because now he is gone, and gone to those of us who remain, is simply, practically, gone. The toughest man I ever knew, gone.

Less than six hours ago, he ran slam out of breath, a last gasping intake of life. And now, gone.

He was not at all a religious man, my dad; I am not at all a religious man myself. But whatever else you can say, he is now at peace. Whatever else, he is struggling to catch his weary breath no more. And for that, at least, I am grateful.

But that is not all: I am grateful, beyond all measure, that I was there with him, in those final hard minutes, gripping his anxious hand, telling him we who remained would not fail him, that he could rest, assured. Grateful that I could be there to say what I hope against hope he heard, as he made his necessary exit, this exhausted warrior who had cheated death so often before. That I could say what I think he needed to hear, and that I know I needed to say.

For those of you who knew my father, you may not have always liked him; many of his most passionate admirers did not. I certainly didn’t always like the man myself, however much I adored him. But each of us knows, regardless, that we were, with him, in the presence of an original, a man so unlike any other, what Hunter Thompson once declared “one of God’s own prototypes,” though my father himself suffered no belief in any god, rest ye assured.

He marched to the remarkable drum of himself, my dad. A distinct rhythm I hope you, too, were privileged enough to get to hear.

So to you, Pops, I say, at this moment when things must be said: I am proud to be your blood, and no matter how we struggled early on to stand for each other, and to find common ground because we were oh so very much in common, I am also so very much your son, today more than I guess I ever really knew.

And I am, perhaps, the luckiest man for it.

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