All through my boyhood, my father worked from early in the morning until late at night. I spent a lot of time missing him. When would he come back, I often wondered.
My grandfather fit the bill as my old man for decades. He took me to his office with him, and to baseball games at Yankee Stadium. He set the standard in taking the time to ask me how I was doing in school and what I planned to do for a living. And that worked fine until he died in 1981.
I wanted my Uncle Leonard to take over for my absentee father. He was worldly and witty and accomplished — a Yale Law School graduate with a French wife and an English sports car. And to his everlasting credit, he, too, tried to play back-up.
Once I became a father myself, I told myself everything between me and my Dad would someday change for the better. He would take more of an interest in me — and more important, in my wife and our son and daughter.
But he remained elusive. And then, in 1997, at age 70, he died. Whatever opportunity once existed for us to be a father and son, at least as I imagined fathers and sons should be, was now suddenly gone for good. I cried at his funeral as I’d never cried before or have since.
My search for an honorary old man resumed. I reconnected with Stanley, a former boss, recently retired and almost 30 years my senior. We became good friends. I drove out to Long Island regularly to visit him and go for walks with him in a waterfront park. At least until he, too, died, in 2011, at age 88.
So it still goes for me, even now, at 66. I’ve stayed in touch with another long-ago boss, Morty, now 92. We’ve lunched together and messaged each other on Facebook. He’s taken an interest in my family and done me more than a few favors professionally.
I also came to know John, 77, a retired doorman. And grown friendly with Ron, 83, a retired police officer. I’ve stayed in touch with Charlie, 74, once my next-door neighbor and a former printer turned security guard.
I’ve now looked my whole life for a man who would put his arm around my shoulder and guide me through whatever came. An old man who, having gone around the block more than I had, could act, if only part-time, like a father to me. Set an example for me in how to be a father myself.
Tell me, as I wish to this day I could hear my own father tell me, that I’ve turned out okay.
Finally, my old man would show me how to be an old man myself. He would serve as a lighthouse beaming a signal through the darkness of the future to bring me safely to shore.
But now I’m fast running out of old men to call my own.
At what age does an adult outgrow the need for a Dad, if ever? Lately, I suspect that I’m getting too old to feel this biological impulse anymore, that it’s too late in the game for me to entertain such expectations anymore. If I’m to be realistic, I have to recognize that I’m already down to my last old man. If I’m still to look for an old man to call my own, an old man who will be around as long as I’m around, I now know just where to find him.