Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Remarkable Person

This is not the sort of thing that I typically write about in my online journal, however, following what has been a remarkable year, I feel compelled to pay a long overdue tribute to a beloved member of my family who we lost just over four years ago (and only fourteen days before this site's first post). I do not believe that I had either the words or the wherewithal to do so at the time of his sudden passing, and, having had the time to process the tremendous loss and heal from it, I believe that I do now.

Louis Anthony Portera was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. He came into my life when I fell in love with his daughter Lauren, and during the twelve years that he was a part of my life he changed it for the better. I can say without any doubt that I am far from the only person who would say this kind of thing about him. Imagine meeting the father of the woman you love, and feeling an indescribably deep connection and regard for him, which instantly puts your mind at ease. That is what I am fortunate to have experienced.

From the start, he was not only invested in his daughter and our success as a couple, but in my own success as an individual. I was a young aspiring artist, and that was all he knew about my career prospects. This would hardly seem to be a comforting thought to a father. However, that was not the ground on which he formed his opinion of me. He formed his opinion of me based on the fact that he could see that his daughter loved me and he trusted his daughter's judgment. He valued me because she did. That is one of the qualities that he had an abundance of: believing in his children and teaching them that he valued those things that they believed were important. I may not have been one of his children, but in this particular regard, one would not have known that.

And so it went.

Whenever I visited, he would use trips to the grocery store to get in some time for just us to be together, and I cherish the memories of those trips. "I'm going to the grocery store! Do you want to come with me?" he would always ask, and I never missed a chance to do so. After big family meals, he would always do the dishes, and starting with my first trip to meet the family we would do them together as a team. It would always involve fun banter about the day or whatever was going on. He made everything fun. Just being with him made everything better because he was such an amazing person.

I have made more than a few people laugh in my time, but making him laugh is one of the things that brought me the most joy. I can still remember the last time I had him reeling, and his frequent refrain of "Woo, that boy ain't right!" as he wiped away his tears of laughter.

In every interaction he was always thoughtful, too.

One of the last trips that we took together was a trip to California. He knew I had always dreamt of visiting Sequoia National Park, so he made sure to schedule a few days of our trip there. On our drive back to San Francisco we stopped in Carmel. Being an avid golfer, he entertained the idea of seeing if he could fulfill a personal dream and play a round of golf on the course at Pebble Beach, but he did not want to take time from the vacation to do something that was purely for him. "I can do it another time", he said. Fortunately, my wife and I had the good sense to tell him that he had to go and do it! He contacted his golfing buddy and his other son-in-law (also a golfer) so that they could watch the live stream when he was on the 18th hole. He returned from the course smiling ear to ear. It was great to know how happy it had made him. When we lost him, that memory comforted me again and again. I am so glad he got the opportunity to have that experience and live that dream.

This man, who would always greet me with an enthusiastic, "Hey, guy!" or "Hey, buddy!" meant so much to me.

We shared a lot with each other. Stories of tough experiences in our childhoods, fears, and the things that we were passionate about. I take great pride in the fact that my son bears a striking resemblance to him (and so did he). I remember telling him, "I don't want you to ever question my family loyalty! I gave my son your head!" and the roars of laughter that followed. It still makes me smile.

That is why there is a bittersweet quality to this past year, and its abundance of wonderful news to share: I can't share the news with him. It speaks volumes that in the wake of every piece of good news that I received my feelings would inevitably drift to the sadness of not being able to share the news with my father-in-law. To be clear, I don't need to hear him say that he is proud of me (or to hear that he is thinking it in any other realm of existence), because his pride and belief in me were not things that he left me thinking I had not earned. I know he was proud of me and he knows how dear he was to me, because we told each other in life. There is something profoundly beautiful about the simplicity of that.

I would just love to be able to share this latest chapter of my life with him, in the same way I would love to share another trip to the grocery store with him.

In the wake of his passing, colleagues in the emergency room where he worked shared this touching revelation: At the end of his shift, when filling out the chart of a patient whose care he would be handing over, he would sign his name followed by the letters "DTRT."

They stood for "Do the right thing."

I feel compelled to write this post, because I have something I need to share: Louis Anthony Portera was like a father to me, and he did the right thing by me in all the time that we shared. I am eternally grateful to him for that.

Saturday, September 14, 2013