My dad would have turned 55 on Friday, but he celebrated his birthday in heaven this year. After a painful fight with pancreatic cancer, he’s now thriving and alive in a new and beautiful life above. He has left a family — and community of friends like family — who will miss his love and kindness every day going forward.
There is no question of “why” in my mind; no anger or doubt. I’m grateful for the time we shared with him, and at peace in the confidence that there is more to life than we can know or imagine here on earth.
We celebrated his life this past weekend, surrounded by a community who knew and loved him. There are countless stories I could share about my dad — none encompass him in full. He once described himself “an enigma wrapped in a mystery” and throughout his life demonstrated the validity of that statement.
I spoke at his memorial, where I chose to share a reflection on memories of time with him in New York City. Thank you for reading and remembering his zest for living with me— in the city that is full of life.
When I think about the people who care for me most, the first person who comes to mind is my dad. He expressed his love in a transparent and authentic way that many men I have encountered shy away from, or even avoid. Dad never hesitated to say “I love you” and tell me how proud he was of me. He always greeted me with a hug and a kiss.
His clients occupied the majority of his hours, but he always made time for me. He was the first to offer to fly me home for any — or no — occasion, happy to put aside work for a long weekend with his daughter. Before moving to Los Angeles, I spent 7 formative years in New York, where he loved to visit me.
A great way to tell you about my dad was is to tell you about Matt in New York City.
There is no better city in the United States than New York to encounter humanity, in both quantity and — varying levels of — quality. Personalities are everywhere. Inconvenienced underground workers on the sprawling subway system, oblivious tourists walking in the bike lane down Broadway, crusty old men playing Chess in Washington Square Park, celebrities slipping out of black Escalades into TriBeCa penthouses… New York is full of energy, people in the raw.
Dad had an immense love for people. All of them. From clients building their third lakefront home to the homeless woman on the 6 Train preaching that Beyonce is the devil incarnate. He wanted to know your story and tell you his. And tell you about his love for the Lord.
Matt in New York was a collision of two driving forces — the city of non-stop energy and life with the man who made time for anyone. Always.
In New York, you don’t talk to strangers on the train. Matt made friends riding the 4 express. I’d be dragging him off at our stop while he was shaking hands and kissing babies.
Above the underground world of the subway, we’d walk the streets. He’d stare up at the sky, marveling at the never ending construction projects of such size and scale. While I tried to hurry us along to Yankee Stadium so not to miss the first pitch, he would take his time making conversation with the construction site managers on Essex street.
Living on the 5th story of a walk-up tenement building, my New York apartment was a slum compared to the beautiful homes he so meticulously crafted. He’d do little repairs for me when visiting. We’d walk down to the hardware store on Delancey and chat with the shop owner. The cost of lumber prices. City regulations. The owner’s story of immigrating to New York. The children who didn’t want to take over the business. There was always time for conversation.
When Matt wanted to enjoy something, he was all in. We shared a love of pastry, and when he would come to New York we’d be sure to visit my favorite bakeries. I took him to Maison Kayser in Bryant Park one winter, where we sat down to warm up with a coffee and share practically one of everything. After exiting the restaurant, he noticed the the takeaway café next door. By the time I had reached the street corner he’d slipped inside, exiting with a third almond croissant for the road.
I took him to my downtown office on the 50th floor of the Brown Brothers Building. As Matt’s daughter, I knew how to slip the stairwell lock that led to the rooftop, another 5 flights up. I can’t think of many times I saw my dad nervous, except when heights were involved. The Cut River Bridge rope swing, finding his eager 3-year old daughter on the rooftop of our Petoskey home and exploring the top of a skyscraper in New York City. These moments could bring out a tense laugh and quick, firm direction to “Back away the edge immediately, Alivia Jane.”
My dad made me feel so loved. Spending this summer summer Up North immersed in a community that knew and loved him, and therefore loved me as his daughter, has been a bittersweet experience. Seeing his impact on our community has given me an even greater appreciation for his life, and I hope that one day I will be known as someone who cared for people like he did.