I was sitting on a long airplane ride yesterday with tears streaming down my cheeks. Listening to a touching Story Corps podcast episode about fathers triggered profound feelings of loss.
My dad, Alvin Boretz, died almost 6 years ago and Father’s Days since then have been hard. His birthday was June 15th so the two days are always entwined in my mind. I can’t call him to talk through a problem, share a piece of good news or talk about the kids’ latest exploits. The truth is, he was gone in his mind years before he actually died. But the physical loss is so final.
I do know that I am luckier than most. I had a Dad who wrote numerous letters through his life and I saved over 100 of those missives that he diligently wrote to family and friends. He was also a screenwriter and the entirety of his work is archived at The University of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
As I write this post, the letters sit next to me, spilling out of the folders I have placed them in, organized by decade.
My Dad’s essence comes through in every one. Many are filled with encouragement, humor, and hope for the future – his and ours. These words helped me to navigate life from my teens through my 20’s and 30’s.Though I left my hometown in NY at 18 and never came back, I could always depend on these welcome gifts in my mailbox.
Other letters remain tough to read today as Dad’s sadness and worry seep through the page like dark ink blots. He had a lot of tragedy in his life and his writing was an outlet for the emotions he couldn’t always express in his scripts or voice aloud.
Dad always made a point of writing to family and friends after significant life events – those happy and sad. Here are a few short excerpts from some of those letters.
The beauty of his prose still moves me.
Excerpts from Dad’s letters
On deciding what career I should pursue:
“I have no advice….simply that your own good sense of survival and your judgment will help you to make proper decisions..none of which have to be irrevocable of course. That is important to remember. You are not committing your life…but simply starting out on a course of action which will allow you to make a livelihood and also hopefully to enjoy what you do and contribute. A most rare combination.”
When my spouse Bill lost out on a job he very much wanted:
“ The world is open to you. All that is required is resistance to all the injustice and madness that afflicts us all. There are few exceptions. Courage, my dear Bill. You can’t miss.”
After a friend of the family’s long time boyfriend broke up with her.
“You are the only one who can handle it and put a stop to your unhappiness. Nature abhors a vacuum” is a terrible cliché but it is also an important truth. You will be busy, working, functioning, living, and yes, even loving. Respect my gray hair and believe what I say. You are Kelly and that is someone wonderful.”
When Bill and I were in a serious car accident but weren’t injured:
“Sorry about the accident but we all need a trauma like that to remind us of our vulnerability. Precisely at our zenith, we often attract the fates and that is good – for an affirmation that it is always a struggle. There is, of course, the inner struggle that all of us face and which surfaces when we least expect it. But at least it gives us a chance to handle our own destiny and to have some of the responsibility for our own lives. “
Thank you, Dad, for sharing your wisdom and compassion with us through your words. I will always be grateful. Happy Father’s Day.