Father’s Day, Without

Posted June 20th, 2010 in Memories of Horst by neil

There’s not an hour that goes by without a thought of him. My saddest times are in the morning mostly, when I am in the shower and waking up. My mind is relatively clear after several hours of sleep, for the most part at least; still early enough to not yet be assaulted by the worries and stress of my conscious life. Random memories of Papa usually trigger it, but this week has been tough for me especially. Last weekend marked one month without him, and this weekend is Father’s Day. He’s been in my thoughts even more so. It will be a tough day; as I’m sure it will be for my siblings, and my Mutti.

Sleep is the only time I don’t think of him, and then it’s only dreams.

For this Father’s Day, I want to put some recent thoughts to text… to be cataloged forever. I’ve been thinking about these things for weeks, and now I want to write them down. This is what I want to do for him, for his memory.

The Co-worker/Boss:
I’d always known he was smart and talented at his profession. But, seeing so many comments and messages come in from the people that he’d worked with over his long career… it’s opened up a window for me. A window into what he was like to work with and to work for. After reading these messages, I imagine he was about the same as a father as he was a coworker and boss. Soft-spoken, always offering guidance, never passing up a opportunity to show how something works, and quick to offer his praise for a job well done.

The Ramp:
A month before he passed, he had to use a wheelchair to move about the house. This was because of blood clots that caused too much pain when he walked or stood for too long. One Friday night, I was talking to him on the phone and he said that he had to make some sort of ramp so that he could get out the back door, onto their patio and into the fresh air outside. I told him I’d be up there the next day to do it for him.

My brother-in-law, Eric, helped me get the supplies we needed and build the ramp. It was done that Saturday, and we had him test it to make sure he could use it. On Monday, I spoke with him on the phone again and he said this to me “I spent a good 15 minutes evaluating the ramp you built. You did a fantastic job on it, I couldn’t find anything to improve!”

I think that he did find an improvement: Move it to the front doorway. Why he didn’t tell me that, I’m not really sure. He knew that I’d worked hard to build the ramp quickly for him. Maybe he didn’t want me to feel bad, maybe I’m just reading too much into it. My brother Derek helped me move it to the front door. This made it much easier for him to get outside.

The Photographer:
Creativity is in my genes; I get it from my father. My thick hair I get from my mother, but being creatively artistic I get from Papa. He had this Yashica 35mm rangefinder camera with an awesome case. I was fascinated with it, and never passed up a chance to hold it and snap some photos with it. I can say for certain that if he had not had this camera, I would likely not have been as involved in photography as I was in school and possibly even now. You could say that this camera cut my teeth in my passion for photography. In the hospital before he died, he told me he saved up and bought it sometime in the 60s in New York city, because he wanted to have a nice camera. Even though he had probably not used it since the 90s, he never got rid of it.

Photography has been a big part of our family life, and I believe it’s in my blood. Without it, we wouldn’t have piles of family photos documenting our lives. Even from when he was a child, his parents seemed to know that photographing milestones was an important part of documenting family history. My daughter, Lauren, shows a desire to learn photography and she already has some skills for sure. I’m sure that my son, and any future children, will be subjected to endless hours of lessons from me. It’s in the blood, it will be passed along.

For years, one of my favorite gifts to give at Christmas is some form of photography of mine. I just loved that it was so personal, and Papa especially enjoyed receiving photos from me. He knew from the gift wrapping that it was a framed photo, but to see the smile on his face when he saw the photo was always the best gift that I ever received from him. I could see the pride in his eyes that his son had made this for him, and that meant the world to me.

When he retired, I introduced him to flickr.com and showed him that we can share photos with each other. Now, he hadn’t been that much of an internet user… but he just took to flickr so quickly and started understanding what it was all about. It was such a great outlet for him to show his creativity, and to connect with people around the world. It became his passion. He was consumed with creating photos to share with the community that he befriended on flickr. I was so happy for him to have that outlet, to know that people everywhere were seeing his photos and experiencing his humor and creativity. He gained such a faithful following of flickr users.

Together we went on many photo-walks, mostly near their home in the high desert. I’ve always cherished those moments with him. Just us two, not talking much… just find things to photograph, and then sharing our photos later. Of course, these mean more to me now than they ever had before. I can only hope that one day I can have such moments with my own kids when they are grown.

He was very private about photos of himself being published online. For this reason, I didn’t take too many photos of him, and rarely put them on flickr. I also tend to not take photos of family and friends for fear that I’m making them uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this leads to me having fewer photos of family and friends than I want to have. I’m going to be more unforgiving when it comes to taking these types of photos, because without them we won’t have those moments in time captured forever.

My advice: take photos of your family and with your family. You will never regret having done so.

The Fun Dad:
In the days after Papa passed away, my siblings and our spouses spent some time flipping through family photos that have been amassed over the decades. There were many photos of him from his childhood, and early manhood, that I’d not seen before. And there were all the photos of us during our time living in Australia, and then in Long Island, New York; these photos I’d seen before, but it had been quite some time since I’d looked at them… so many of them seemed as if they were brand new to me. Most likely this is because I’d grown as a person, changed in ways that made the photos mean something more to me.

We came across photos of Papa building these sleds for all of us to use on the sand dunes. We would go out to the dunes, hike way up high, then sit down on the custom sleds and speed down the sand. There were no other kids there with these sleds.

Then there were photos of us on the beach with our neighbors, the Gravesons. Our dads would both spend hours building gigantic pyramids of sand, then wrapped their towels on their heads and led us all in crazy songs and dancing around the pyramids.

Photos of the snowy winters in the New York suburbs brought back memories of Papa taking me to an empty parking lot in his VW Beetle. I don’t remember if my brothers were with us for sure. He would drive and then pull the emergency brake while turning and the car would spin around and around. I remember laughing so much… but even more than the laughter, I remember him telling us “Don’t tell your mother about this!”

And then my wife, Melanie, said to all of us “your dad sure seemed like he did everything he could to make sure you all had lots of fun.” This made me stop and think and reflect for a while. Yeah, he sure did do that… we did have some great fun with him when we were kids. But, you know… that was just normal for us. It’s how we knew him, it was just Papa.

This fun mentality has most definitely seeped deep into me and all of my siblings. If there is one legacy that will be passed on to the grandkids, it will be Papa’s sense of fun and good times. If I can be half as fun with my kids as he was with us, I will consider myself successful at being a father. That will be how I will ensure that he lives on forever; I’m going to make sure my kids know that fun is in our blood, and it must be passed along to everyone.

Happy Father’s Day Papa! All of your kids love you and miss you. We’ll never forget you.

6 Responses so far.

  1. Oh, Neil, thank you for writing and sharing these beautiful recollections of your dad and how he lives on in you and will in your kids and, doubtless, theirs. There is no greater legacy than to leave memories of love and fun.

    You’ve brought tears to my eyes, but they’re more from a feeling of warmth than they are of sorrow, though that’s a part of it, too.

  2. Ine says:

    Neil, this is a beautiful tribute to your dad…your mom must be so proud of you.

    Have a nice father’s day and keep thinking of your dad…I think thats what we are supposed to do…before you know it, you remember things that you hadn’t thought of in years.

    My dad has been gone what seems like forever and I still miss him very much…especially on days like this.

    Love ya, Ine

  3. Deborah Rose says:


    What beautiful memories of your Dad. I am sure he is smiling down on you from above and thinking that he did a great job being your Father. He knows that you will be a wonderful Father as well to your children.

    God Bless,


  4. stephanie s. says:

    My little brother Neil,

    I LOVE YOU . . . .you are amazing in what ever you do and your stories of Papa bring back so many memories. Like you said, there’s not a day that goes by without thinking of Papa. Anywhere I am, memories of Papa are there and I’m sad that he is not here, but I’m happy for the memories we all have of him. Papa has given us a gift of happiness……just have fun 🙂 I will and I’m sure my siblings will also remember Papa for making our childhood fun and exciting. Papa is in my thoughts from the time I wake up and to when I fall asleep and I am just waiting to have that one dream to tell me that “every little thing is going to be alright”, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY PAPA !!!!!! DEREK AND NEIL :):):)

  5. Teresa Fleckenstein says:

    Such a beautiful tribute! Life tends to punch you…then sock you…then kick you in the private parts! Some how we find a way to get back up! Friends and Family will always help you get back up! Always remember that! Focus on the Happy Stuff…It’s WAY more fun 🙂

  6. Kiki says:

    prepared and posted (wrongly) on June 20/10…. copied now and pasted – better late than never!

    What a tremendous recall of Horst and what a beautiful testimonial to all fathers! It’s as if we could share your dad… I find it interesting how we live in much closer proximity with our fathers after they have died. It’s like they are now always around us, in us, with us…. when before, when they were still alive, we were all so busy, living our life, phoning and talking, writing and thinking, but never so much as now!
    I hope you had a lovely Fathers’ Day – all the same. We as Swiss don’t really celebrate Fathers’ Day, we say that every day of the year is a daddy’s day…. BUT in France where we live presently, it’s quite important!
    Thank you …

    PS: BE CAREFUL with uploading family photos on Flickr! They do get stolen, misused for many unwanted purposes and just think that not everybody is as honest, kind and friendly as you are…. I don’t trust this media enough to share any of my family; they also wouldn’t like it!

    sorry for delay…..