I was about 10 years old. School was over, but I had an assignment I had to complete over the summer: I had to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and there were three paintings I was supposed to write an essay about.
When explaining this assignment to my Dad, I got the museums mixed up and told him I had to visit the Museum of Modern Art. Like I said, sometimes I got the details wrong.
Instead of wandering around the museum looking for my paintings, we asked the lady at the information desk and she kindly informed my father that her son was a dope and that the paintings we were looking for were about 35 blocks from there.
My Dad just kind of shook his head, what else could he do? Since we were already there, we decided to have a look around at the modern art. There was a lot of odd stuff. In one gallery there was a huge white canvas that everyone seemed impressed with. In another gallery, it was identical paintings of a red circle that gathered crowds.
We had decided to leave when my Dad spotted “The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. The gallery it was in was nearly empty and there was a bench in front of it. My Dad took me over and we sat down. We sat there for a few minutes, my Dad staring at this thing.
To be honest, I was a ten-year-old kid and probably a bit bored. But then my Dad said something to me that I’ve always kept with me. Even as forgetful and bad at details as I was, I can still remember what he said.
“Son, take a good look at this painting and remember it. Years and years from now, you might visit some museum, and see this painting. Who knows, maybe you'll have a son of your own by then. I'll probably be long gone.
“But, look at this painting, and imagine all of the people over the years – the presidents and the popes, the rich people and the poor people, all of whom have looked at this same canvas and seen this same painting.
“Years from now, you'll sit down and look at this painting and remember that this is the exact same painting we looked at. Together.
“It's a piece of history, and it's something we shared together, and we'll share it together again, years from now when you look at it again. Even though I'm not here, it'll be like you're visiting me.
Those words, spoken from a father to his ten-year old son over 40 years ago have stayed with me over the years. It helped me look at art differently and sparked an interest in contemporary history. I no longer saw just a painting or a building or a cemetery – I saw the people whose lives were touched by those objects.
My Dad grew up not far from here and moved to Woodhaven with my Mom shortly after I was born. He was a good man, an artist in his own right. He got involved in his community, working with Rich-Haven Little League for many years.
After he retired, he found great joy in our backyard, where he would spend hours puttering around and listening to sports radio. He and I spent many hours at night out back, talking about baseball and life.
Next week will mark ten years since my Dad left us. Physically, that is. His soul has never left us. I see him in our backyard. I see him when I visit Strack Pond or Victory Field, where we played ball together. I visit him each time I drive through Woodhaven.
And, of course, there will always be “The Starry Night.” Something we shared together.