A Loving Wife’s Father’s Day Greeting

It’ll be a strange Father’s Day chez nous — the first since my dad’s death, the first since we had Maxine. On the actual Big Day we’ll all be at the cemetery, at my father’s unveiling. Good times.

It is a testament to my husband’s wonderfulness that he has not uttered one word of complaint about having to spend his premier Father’s Day as a daddy of two placing rocks on a grave. The fact that Jonathan loved my father (and had tremendous patience for my dad’s, uh, quirks) is part of why I love him so much.

There are, of course, many other parts. My last love letter to my husband ran in this space on Father’s Day two years ago. God forbid I should make you queasy by broadcasting my love and hotness for him again so soon, but I will say that as time passes, as our awareness of life’s losses mounts. And as our children grow, I love him more all the time.

Jonathan is a man of action, not words. If you locked him in a bathroom with only a bungee cord, a piece of salami and a twist-tie, he’d figure out a way to use them to make his escape, but only after regrouting the tile and fixing the dripping showerhead. He is the Grillmaster, a man who can turn a slab of raw meat into a thing of wonder. Nothing makes him happier than feeding others. On September 11, 2001, within hours of the Twin Towers falling, Jonathan was quietly making a giant vat of pasta salad. He knew that people would gravitate toward our home, because they always do. And they did. Our backyard was soon full of shell-shocked strangers, ash-covered friends of friends who’d walked to our place from further downtown — all of them eating pasta salad. At my father’s shiva, Jonathan spent much of the time under desks and tables. His response to tragedy was to fix all the wiring of the various computers and televisions. “It’ll make your mom’s life easier,” he told me.

When I first started dating Jonathan, I wanted him to be a Word Guy. I wanted love songs, poems, a cute little heart-bedecked drawing or two left for me by the toaster in the morning. This was not his way. After our initial eyeball-melting passion mellowed to nice warm embers, I kvetched to my friends about his lack of demonstrativeness. It took a while for me to understand that he was demonstrative, in his own way. He remembers everything I tell him. He obsesses over the size of my computer monitor (I tell him size isn’t everything), and when he got a new job, the first thing he mentioned buying was a newer, faster desktop computer for me. He always gets the taramasalata I love when he passes East Village Cheese. He deals with all our bill paying, insurance issues and kosher meat purchasing (despite the kosher meat being my issue; he’d happily fill the house, floor to ceiling, with bacon) so that I don’t have to think about those things.

Here’s the quintessential story about how Jonathan and I display love differently: When my dad had open-heart surgery in St. Louis in 1996, things went spectacularly awry. I stayed at the hospital for an extra week before calling, tearfully, to say I was coming home… despite not knowing whether or not my dad would survive. Jonathan kicked into gear. He cleaned the apartment. He put flowers on the tables. He greeted me at the door by saying, “I got you something special.” In my head, this something special was a necklace that he knew I’d been coveting. (He knew I’d been coveting it because I went from casually mentioning it once to discussing it constantly to leaving the jewelry store’s card on his pillow. Subtle.) Jonathan told me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. I did. Instead of a wee silver chain draped across my open palms, I felt the weight of a huge cardboard box. I opened my eyes and discovered that I was holding a giant crate of Sweet ’N Low. I stared at my then-boyfriend, dumbfounded. He said happily, “You always get so upset when we’re out of Sweet ’N Low! I got this at Costco! Now we’ll never run out again!”

I am not proud to say this: I burst into tears. Jonathan said, “I should have gotten the necklace, huh?” He knew. But he added, “I didn’t have time to clean the apartment and get the necklace, and I figured you’d be sadder to come home to a messy apartment.”

That story tells you a lot. I was a drama queen. I threatened to leave him every time we fought. I once threw an apple at his head. (I did aim high, on purpose.) But Jonathan was always in it for the long haul. A man who buys a lifetime supply of Sweet ’N Low (when he himself does not use Sweet ’N Low) is a man who plans to be there for a lifetime.

Oh, he’s not perfect. He’s not romantic in the Byronic sense, as a gift of artificial sweetener indicates. His standards are so high, one often fails to meet them. And then one is treated to a withering stare and/or a lecture about one’s failings as a human being — often because, say, one again forgot to rinse every speck of food detritus out of the sink. He has temper tantrums. He is usually late. His favorite “Winnie the Pooh” character is Eeyore, and has been since he was 2 years old. (What kind of 2-year-old identifies with Eeyore?) It indicates a strong depressive streak. He has an unnerving appetite for risk. He is truthful to a fault: When I asked if he was tired of me talking about missing my dad, he said, “Sometimes.” (I fear readers of this column feel the same way.) He quickly added that he meant that he missed my dad too, but that there was nothing to be gained by talking about it, so why talk about it? (And there you have another difference between him and me, in a nutshell.)

Still, these are quibbles. And now that I see Jonathan in the full flower of dad-dom, I love him all the more. I love to watch him gar-

dening with Josie; he bought her her own little spade, with a caterpillar head on it, at Target. I love to listen to him putting her to bed every night, reading “The Wizard of Oz” over and over and over because that’s what she wants to hear — despite the fact that he’s so bored, he wants to bash out his own brains on the yellow brick road. I love lying in bed half-awake, nursing Max, while listening to Jonathan whispering to Josie in the kitchen, teaching her to make pancakes and letting me rest. I love the way he lets Maxine chew on his nose. I loved that he spent hours on Consumer Reports researching the safest car seats for both girls. I love that when Max has a cold and wakes up sobbing for the fourth time in one night, and I shake him awake (oh, he’s great, but due to his irksome Y chromosome he still does not wake up automatically when a child cries), he goes and gently pats her back to sleep without complaining.

And yes, I’m still hot for him. (I’m just often too tired to do anything about it.) Love the big hands, love the hairy chest, love the long-lashed almond eyes he bequeathed to both our girls. The hair that was shoulder-length black corkscrew curls (the kind of hair Josie calls “boing-y,” after Ramona’s nemesis in “Ramona the Pest”) when we met is now short and salt and pepper, but it’s still gorgeous. And the fact that he’s a great father is hotness itself.

Happy Father’s Day, sweetie. I love you.

Write to Marjorie at mamele@ forward.com.

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