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What Dad Taught Me

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately. He was my hero.

My dad was the kind of guy who can get through Ivy League med school by drawing cartoons in the back of the class, and still somehow graduate in front. He wore a necklace that read, “War is not for children and other living things,” and took my family to Peter, Paul and Mary concerts.

Dad never read me bedtime stories. Instead, when I was four, he began explaining the theory of evolution in nightly increments. Tom Petty was often blasting in the car, and he used to do a weird hand-clapping maneuver that involved taking his hands on and off the steering wheel which I found exhilarating. He was lucky not to have been pulled over, but it made him the coolest person in the world.

Dad took me to Washington for our last trip. We sat in on an NPR recording and toured the White House. I didn’t understand why on Earth he would pack in THAT many museums visits into one trip. Turns out, he wanted to cram in a lifetime’s worth.

Dancing was the same thing. My father loved to dance with us whenever he could. One day, he had my sisters and I wear dresses, and gave us all a long, special dance to our favorite music (three-year old Carrie, and seven-year old me picked blended folk -too embarrassing to mention. Our favorite Hebrew album was included in line-up. Luckily, my youngest sister was still too little to talk.)

I never understood why he danced with us that day until years later, after he was gone, when I finally learned what a wedding was.

I could go on and on about my father, about what a wonderful guy he was, how he told us if he had to do it all over, he would have been an architect instead of a psychiatrist…

I can generally pull off humor in the most dire of situations, but when I write about my father, it’s hard. I’m still angry at the doctor’s mistake that caused him to hemorrhage and receive an HIV-infected blood transfusion two months before they started screening blood for HIV/AIDS. My dad was gentle, funny, and brilliant – a wonderful human being. I’m angry that my grandmother lost her only son, and I’m angry my mother was left alone with three kids. It’s a miracle my mother never contracted AIDS from my father, thus everyone else in my family is healthy. (We think my mother has Delta 32, making her resistant to AIDS.)

Still, this kind of thing is not supposed to happen.

On World AIDS Day, I want to look back, to smile and thank him for the presents he gave ME.

To the baby born on January 14th, 1952 at Beth Israel hospital in Newark, NJ, weighing 7lbs 11oz, and to the 42 year old man who stood at 6’4, thank you, Dad, for teaching me that no one is infallible. For teaching me that, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, we all are equal.

HIV/AIDS was still relatively new back when my father was first diagnosed. There was still enough stigma that, even in his obituary, my mother wrote he died of cancer because she was afraid of what the people in our small town would think if she told the truth.

Thank you, Dad, for teaching me the importance of being real and speaking the truth. Thank you for showing me firsthand that we all deserve a voice, especially those sick or marginalized.

I always told people the truth about my father, regardless of what people might think of me or my family. I lost friends, as did my mother, but I always wanted people to know that AIDS can happen to anyone.

I stopped believe in miracles that February. But I started believing in the ability of words to transform people’s lives.

Thank you, Dad, for having a bigger impact on my life than anything else in my twenty-five years. If I could give you all the presents your heart desires, I would.

That you lived gave me enough to last a lifetime.