Fives and Zeros: Significant Markers, Remembering My Dad and Why I Can Never Forget D-Day


Dad, right front, with his younger brother and parents, about 1942.

We memorialize significant events with numbers ending in five or zero. The 30th anniversary. The 15th birthday. The 40th year of service. Not a 23rd birthday or a 7th anniversary or an 8th year.

This year, we mark 50 years since The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a half-century since Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but we probably won’t pay much attention to the 33rd anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye or the 186th birthday of “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes, U.S. first lady and wife of President Rutherford B.

On June 6, if it is a slow news day, some commentator will note in a 15-second piece that it’s the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by the Allied troops in World War II, an event commonly referred to as D-Day, even though there are, militarily speaking, lots of D-Days. This D-Day is the one we remember.

I remember D-Day because twenty years ago on June 6, 1997, I got a frantic long-distance phone call from my sister telling me that our father had died.


Age 21. Dad loved the navy.

This was not something I was expecting. He was 67 years old. The doctor had just given him a physical and pronounced him in perfect health. I had a long conversation with him on my birthday just 10 days prior where he described in detail the painting he had just completed for me. He was planning a trip to a reunion of sailors from the ship he served on in the Korean War. He told me a story about taking my four-year-old nephew Colin to the soda fountain at the drug store. I told him about the show that we had just extended at the theatre where I was working. He thought it sounded like fun. He wished me happy birthday and told me he loved me. I said thanks and that I loved him, too.

I never spoke to him again.

Twenty years.


Dad and me.

I’ve thought about him on every single one of the 7,300 days that have made up those two decades. I wasn’t ready to have my father die when I was barely in my 30s. I still had too many questions to ask. I still had too many hours to while away listening to stories of his childhood. I still had so many experiences that I would want to tell him about.

I wanted him to share in my successes. I wanted him to tell me that whatever may have failed or whatever terrible experience I might have had wasn’t the end of the world. I wanted to talk politics with him. I wanted to watch him get frustrated at building something once more because that was the best. He was a funny man, but he was at his funniest when he was cursing at an inanimate object that wouldn’t bend to his will.

I wanted him to paint me more paintings and make me more goofy birthday cards and take photographs of random things and mail them to me with a little note because he thought I would like to see them. Most of all, I wanted to introduce him to the man I fell in love with and married.


Self portrait.

I suppose I came into my own as a human being after he died. I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to figure a lot out on my own. I wasn’t too thrilled by that, I have to say. Still, a few years later, I met Lee and after falling in love with him, I had the opportunity to fall in love with his parents, too, so I promptly did that, because I could. And because I got lucky. And because you rarely get a second chance at great parents. And you should never discount the value of luck.

My dad, like all of us, had lots of flaws. Often we tend to look at the dead through rose-colored spectacles, but I try not to do that. He was far from perfect. He made choices that I never would have made. He sometimes did things that left me scratching my head in bafflement. I’ve often wondered how I could be so different from him in so many ways. And I wondered how we could also share so many interests.

The only thing I do know, 20 years on, is that he loved me and I still love him. And that’s about the best gift a parent can give a child.

Here’s to D-Day, Daddy. Wish you were here.

Tales of Hoffman: Mourning, Madness, Misery, Mystery and Melancholy in the Wake of Senseless Death

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a genius. He was a mesmerizing actor on stage and on screen. Talented people stood in the wings and watched him work, their mouths agape.


Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He died yesterday at age 46. With a syringe in his arm.

That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman was a junkie.

And that’s not an indictment of the man; that’s a fact. We have seen, all too often, creative geniuses who are drawn to substance abuse and who succumb to its lure. The question that I keep asking myself is why?

What is it that you are trying to escape? What is it that you can no longer endure? What pain is so searing that you crave any release?

I have no answers, it will remain a mystery to me, I guess, but I do know that substance abuse at this level is intensely egomaniacal. It is driven by something — some demon, perhaps — that makes you crave the high. The release. And not care about what happens to you. Or your children. Or your family. Or those who love you.

Hoffman was a shape-shifter; a big bear of a man who won the Academy Award for portraying the diminutive author Truman Capote. And he did this so effortlessly — it seemed — that the audience not only suspended its disbelief, we actually believed that he had become small and fragile before our eyes. That’s the hallmark of a master of his talent. But, as we have seen, that talent does not come without a price.

Today, I don’t know how to feel. Should I be angry at the people who sold him heroin? Should I be angry at Hoffman for giving in to the smack? For dying? Should I celebrate the body of work that he leaves behind? Should I be sad that he couldn’t overcome his demons. And that the demons won?

Life is such mercury: here one moment, there the next, then gone. Melancholia seems the overarching feeling of the day.

A Life Well-Lived

As many other people have reported, this is the best obituary ever. It’s gone viral in a major way and deservedly so. Having lived for the first 25 years of my life in the South, I do appreciate a delectable Southern character. I would have loved to have known Mr. Stamps, I believe.

Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.

via Harry Stamps Obituary: View Harry Stamps’s Obituary by The Sun Herald.

Follow-up story in the Gulfport (MS) Sun Herald.