Terra Sigillata

I am truly humbled by reader response to my Thursday post on the 12th anniversary of my father’s death. What began as a simple journaling exercise interspersed with some great photos provided by my sister has become one of my most highly-read and most-commented posts.

I don’t want to comment too much lest I take away what this post has meant to me and others. But for background, this is something that I had intended to write for the 10th anniversary of Dad’s passing. However, I had only been with ScienceBlogs for a few months and wasn’t yet in a position to write so frankly and personally. I thought about this around 10 days ago. But when NIAAA launched their “Rethinking Drinking” site on Monday, I took it as a sign that this was the anniversary for it.

I have to admit that, surprisingly, I didn’t cry once while writing it. I thought about it quietly, with almost workmanlike focus, piecing together over three days and nights several stories I had always wanted to tell. There were others and they will come out in the future. The impact of the piece was enhanced by the gift of my sister, the family archivist of my generation. After Dad died, she and her fellow artist husband (designers of the Terra Sig masthead) fashioned his SUV license plate into a photo album cover containing of images of me with my Dad throughout my life. Those are the ones which adorn the post.

Anyway, I didn’t fall apart until my Mom commented saying that my Dad, true to form, would’ve taken a printout of the post and shown it to all of his buddies at the check printing factory.

I was also touched by the comment from my mother’s second husband, now Opa to my daughter and my nephews. As with me and my mother’s stepfather, he is the only real grandfather they will ever know on our side of the family. Without having children of his own before, and not having to suffer through my upbringing, he is a warm and loving presence in their lives.

I was also taken aback by several of my old friends who knew my Dad and surfaced in the comments, on my Facebook page, and in my e-mail boxes. In addition, the many friends I have made online around the world, from Chapel Hill to Brazil to Germany to Australia to India, all seem to have shared some way in my story.

As the post developed, I increasingly intended to tell a more precise, specific story to which many could relate. As I noted in the ScienceBlogs frontpage teaser tag, mine is a story shared by 18 to 25 million people in the US alone – personal, yet universal. I have an accomplished musician friend, Jon Shain, who once gave me the counterintuitive advice of when writing songs, to be as specific as possible instead of trying to generalize. Each person, Jon said, will interpret their experiences in the context of your story.

As such, many of you have shared with me your own experiences triggered by the post. Some positive, some equally wistful, many not. Perhaps that was the best part – to give my valued readers a focus around which to relate their own stories and examine their own relationships.

Your comments have also helped me notice that when writing biographical posts here, I generally write about dead people. My top two biographical posts are this one about Dad and another about a high school classmate who perished in the World Trade Center during the coordinated 11 Sept 2001 attacks in DC, NYC, and PA. (For reference, the number one autobiographical post and the most highly-read, linked, and commented is the liveblogging of my vasectomy.).

Lest I run out of personal tragedies and outpatient surgical procedures, I’ll probably try more in the future to acknowledge those who are still with us. None of us are perfect and each of us has something to celebrate, something that is unique to each of us.

Remembering Dad has reminded me to look for the good in everyone, everyday.

Until they start pissing me off incessantly. Then I will redouble my efforts.

Thank you for the honor of sharing my story with you.

Comments

  1. #1 leigh
    March 16, 2009

    [applause]

    i really appreciate how you shared your story with us. you’re right, we tend to forget how many people share the experience in some way or another. all the best to you and yours, abel.

  2. #2 scribbler50
    March 16, 2009

    “Thank you for the honor of sharing my story with you.”

    No, Abel, thank YOU for sharing with us such a personal yet universal lesson in the appreciation of life and loved ones. And for illustrating so eloquently that it’s never too late to make things right with those who’ve moved on.
    It’s the other way around, friend… you do us honor for letting us share in that tribute.

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 16, 2009

    Dude, I’m ashamed to say I missed your post first time around, but I just went and read it now. What a beautifully lyrical tribute.

  4. #4 Heather
    March 19, 2009

    What scribbler50 wrote. Which is why I made my initial comment on the tribute post, first.

    Don’t you think there is a major loss of innocence at the time of the first death of a parent, no matter at what age? It is a transforming life experience.

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