When Jack Crystal died of a heart attack in 1963 his son was 15. They shared only 700 Sundays in their years together. Billy Crystal was Jack’s kid and his Broadway show by the same name was a huge hit. I’ve seen it three times. The poignancy of the story never gets old.
Dad, you and Mom introduced me to the world on May 6, 1952. It was a rainy Tuesday in the Bronx. The last time I saw you, February 27, 2018, was also a Tuesday. In between we shared over 65 years — 3,400 Tuesdays — together.
Two weeks ago today, a Sunday, you were still here. A week ago today we said goodbye for the last time.
Dad, you remember how every November 12 you used to keep a scorecard on who called for your birthday, but more importantly, who didn’t? Well, last week at your service there was no need to keep score because everyone was accounted for as a final tribute to our patriarch.
All seven grandchildren made hasty arrangements to be in Fort Lauderdale. They came from California, Texas, New York and even Germany to honor you. Your grandkids are a television writer in Hollywood, a hotel executive in Beverly Hills, a doctor in Dallas, an insurance underwriter in New York City, an upstart rookie in the hospitality business in LA, a junior in college and a first lieutenant in the US Army. They felt your pride.
Four of your nieces and nephews came in from New York and Atlanta because you were their favorite uncle. And your posse from the condo was there too — Shelly, Larry, Lenny, Marty and the two Bob’s — all of them a mix of Morty Seinfeld, Frank Costanza and Jack Klompus, and in denial that the leader of the pack was gone.
Rabbi Labowitz spoke about you as if he knew you. He’s the same rabbi who presided over Mom’s service three years ago and you liked so much. His warm and gentle tone did you proud. He told the story about you playing baseball in high school, looking over to make sure the cute redhead was watching, and getting conked on the head with a line drive that you never saw coming. Mom married you anyway. It got laughs.
I did what you asked me years ago and presented the first eulogy. I was followed by your brother Larry, daughter-in-law Sue and grandkids Jason, Robby and Scott all who did you proud. Kenny gathered enough strength to be the closer. Michael was too emotional and couldn’t speak.
You lived 88 great years but the 89th became a struggle with declining health. You were a proud man who did not want a compromised lifestyle. You were too active, you were too much on-the-go; you were, after all, Herb Berger and the Herb Berger we all knew and loved was not the Herb Berger of the last year. Your kidneys were failing and fifteen hours of dialysis every week was just not a part of your plan. You resisted, but finally agreed because me, Mike and Kenny wanted you to try to enjoy what time might have been left. Going into cardiac arrest during your first dialysis session was your way of showing us you really didn’t want to do it. It’s okay Dad, we understand.
Andi told me what a blessing it was for you to live 89 years and have a 65 year-old son. I beg to differ a little bit because the blessing was mine, to be 65 and still have my Dad, who also was my best friend.
A week ago Thursday morning I woke up for the first time in my life without you in it. The daily 8 am phone calls will be nevermore. Never again will I hear how lousy dinner was the night before, but you still took half of it home with you anyway. Or that you got Comcast to give you another cable and phone deal that was cheaper than the one you got a month before. Or how you knew when to leave a movie at just the right time to get a refund. Or why the house was so hot. Or how you just renegotiated your car lease with Kia to save five bucks a month. Or you changed HMO’s again because they added a new provider you wanted to see. Or how you looked forward to dinner with Diane, who made your last years so happy. And how you carefully watched the expiration dates on your stack of “buy one entree, get one free” coupons. Or how many doctor appointments you had during the week. Or how you looked forward to the Monday night poker game and the Tuesday morning breakfast with your cronies. I’m still laughing about the day you went out to get the paper at 6 am and it wasn’t on the driveway, but your neighbor’s was. So what did you do? You went and took it and then called the Sun-Sentinel to report that her’s wasn’t delivered. I asked you who thinks of doing something like that? And only you could reason that she doesn’t wake up until nine so she would never know the difference. And that’s only the beginning of the endless schemes you came up with. You tell them all with passion and a sense of accomplishment for even the smallest of victories.
Now I, and the rest of us, go on without you, Dad.
You gave me so much that I could never repay during our sixty-five years together. You made me a baseball fan, a Pirates fan, and I’ll never forget the driveway embrace in 1960 after Mazeroski’s homerun. You made me a hockey fan, though you bailed and left me with the Rangers while you won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders. I hope it’s not sacrilegious but I took your Islander key chain and now carry it as my own.
You taught me work ethic and values. You taught me it’s okay to be wrong but try to make things right. You taught me never take anything for granted. You put me through college and never asked for a thing in return, except wanting me to be happy. You gave me your height. You supported me though two marriages, finally getting it right the second time. You reveled as a Grandpa. You were an inspiration to everyone when Mom got sick. You were always giving and never failing.
You gave me two brothers, a couple of real rats when we were kids, but they turned out okay just like you and Mom said they would. I hope me, Mike and Ken gave you as much pride as you gave us.
The one thing you gave me that I probably could have done without was the genetics for a coronary bypass. I’m not sure why you didn’t pass down to me your full head of hair or your congeniality. Instead I got five bypasses—one more than your quad fifteen years ago—but just like you told me, I’d fight through it and be healthier. You were right, again.
But that surgery was the beginning of a real shitty six months for me. Andi’s mom passed away in November and then came twelve days ago, Wednesday, February 28: my worst day ever.
When I left you the night before, a Tuesday, I kissed you on the forehead and told you I loved you. I never imagined it would be the last time I would see you. Somehow I think you did. It was your time and you knew it.
You were our rock. You were supposed to be here forever. We never imagined a world, or our world, that didn’t include you.
Now I listen to old voicemails from you and smile. The whole thing doesn’t seem real. I thought I was ready for this but I’m not.
Dad, Tuesdays will never be the same without you. Neither will Wednesday through Monday.