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Forty-five years (#1282)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, short, disjoint

I found myself debating whether to write this musing. It’s been a hard day and a long day. I have large amounts of grading to do; a few hundred short problems, if I count correctly, plus some mini-projects. I have about twenty problems to write for the final SoLA [1]. I don’t know that I have a lot to write about tonight’s topic. And it’s definitely maudlin. Does the world need my maudlin musings? Plus, the Celtics are on [3]. On the other hand, I’ll only have one opportunity to write this musing. So, even if it’s short and not particularly coherent, I feel the need to write something.

It’s May 11, 2024. My father, William Rebelsky, passed away forty-five years ago today. Forty-five years is a long time. Three quarters of my life. He would have been ninety-three if he were still alive. So I’m guessing that, no matter what, he’d have been dead by now.

May 11 used to be a day that Mom and I talked about him. She’s been dead for more than a decade, too. How many people who knew him are still alive? Some, I know. For example, I think Lynn still has his big loom. At least she did the last time I saw her. Or the time before that.

As I said, forty-five years is a long time. I seem to be at the age where many things in my life happened a long time ago. Michelle and I got married nearly thirty-seven years ago. Let’s hope that we make it to thirty-seven. Maybe even forty. My eldest son was born nearly twenty-nine years ago. That’s a long time, too. About eight years from Dad’s death until marriage. About eight years from our marriage to our first child. Only three more years until the second child, and then another three until the third.

At this point, any memories I have of Dad are probably memories of stories more than memories of him. Stories Mom told. Stories his friends told. Stories I’ve told myself. Or maybe not. I still remember the pond in Chilmark we walked around every summer, looking for crabs. I still remember sitting with him at the dining room table, playing poker or some other card game. These memories seem somewhat more visceral than conceptual. Even somewhat visual. I can see the pond. I can see the dining room table (and the dining room). I even remember standing between the dining room and the front room (piano room, fireplace room), hearing him tell the Pierre shaggy dog story [4].

Fifteen years ago, when I was almost his final age, I told myself that I wouldn’t leave my kids the way Dad left me. His health risk was unfiltered Luckies. Mine was my weight. I lost a lot. I wish I’d been able to keep it up. Is that relevant? I don’t know. I need to be a better editor for myself.

Where was I? Oh. I remember. For the first few decades after he died, I doubted I’d ever have the positive impact on people he had. Since I’m not in industry, I can’t have the same kind of impact. For example, I have fewer opportunities to help someone move up the ladder, whatever the ladder is. I’m also not as high on the ladder as he was. On the other hand, I seem to have a positive impact on my students. Or some of my students. Or so they tell me. And, as I finally realized a few years ago, the snark that seems to be so much of who I am probably came from him [5]. So I’m glad I inherited some of him, whether through nature or nurture. I know lots came from mom, too, but having some of both parents feels better.

For the first twenty or so years after he died, I felt so very sad on each May 11th, even if I somehow forgot that it was May 11th. My body knew. But after those first twenty or so years, I reached the point that May 11th was a day of memory, but not of sadness.

Writing this makes me sad. And happy. I was lucky to have him as part of my life for nearly fifteen years. I’ll never know all the impacts he had.

Thanks, Dad. I love you!

[1] Set of learning assessments. See my musing on mastery grading [2] for more information on learning assessments.

[2] Wow. I wrote that three and a half years ago. I must have something more recent. But I can’t find anything.

[3] I don’t watch the Celtics as much as I did as a kid, or even that much at all, but I try to watch them in the playoffs.

[4] I’ve told you the story, Jon. I don’t think you need it again.

[5] At his memorial service, someone mentioned their interview with him at Polaroid. Dad opened the interview with We don’t usually hire people who don’t know enough to come in out of the rain.

Version 1.0 of 2024-05-11.