My brother and family visited from California last weekend. Traveling is challenging for them with a 6 year-old, a 3 year-old, a 6 hour flight and 3 time zones. But because my father lives here and is no longer mobile enough to travel, they make at least one journey east every year. This year the calendar page for September 13th said “Rosh Hashanah”, and thanks to a lucky series of sports scheduling and well-played tennis by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, it also marked the US Open men’s final.
When I was growing up, my father, brother and I would watch Wimbledon and the US Open religiously. My father would yell at the TV and criticize the players for all of the “stupid” things they were doing. It was a variation on a common theme in my house. Anyway, if I close my eyes I can imagine Borg and McEnroe when I was 10, or Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova when I was 18, or 1996 Graf-Vicario final we watched in Atlanta while visiting my brother. And I remember watching the French Open with the 2 of them when my father was in the hospital in Princeton beating back post-colonoscopy complications when he beat colon cancer.
So in August this year, when I noticed how the calendars lined up, I started rooting for a #1 vs. #2 matchup at the US Open. And then the players in the rest of the draw acceded to my wish and it happened. It was as though destiny had one more epic tennis-watching session in store for the 3 of us. My kids, who I have indoctrinated into becoming Federer fans, were ready as well. My Sandwich Generation dad moment in front of the Flushing Meadow court.
Except that a rain delay pushed the match back from 4pm to almost 8pm, late enough that my father couldn’t watch with us, we had to serve dinner instead, and my kids were occupied with my nieces. It was a moment that was not to be.
I mention this because my kids have moved into pre-teen mode and I can hear the clock ticking down their last few days as willing inhabitants of our home. My father likely doesn’t have many US Open finals left in him. The moments I have together with them take on a fierce urgency, each opportunity feeling more precious than the ones before it. This is the benefit of mortality, I suppose. It forces you to appreciate and savor the glimmers you get.
This is one reason that, unlike my brother, I am not a frequent videographer. Maybe this is a mistake. My philosophy is that I would rather be in the moment than observing it, and I have learned about myself that I don’t do both well.
Most moments I have with my father now aren’t scripted calendar-aided events. Yes, my kids have their B’Not Mitzvah celebration coming up and with any luck he’ll be there. But I am thinking of the pauses amongst the list of chores I perform at his place when he stops, thinks, and begins a sentence with “You know, I never told you….” It’s not the notes that make the moments. It’s the empty spaces between them. The same goes for my kids. It’s the small remarks, the impromptu dances they choreograph, the stories they offhandedly tell us when we’re playing cards and everyone has their guard down. Those are the moments I already miss.
I checked with Google and learned that Rosh Hashanah 2016 is in early October, so there’s no US Open final during the holiday. Maybe it’s just as well. The 3 of us missed watching a pretty compelling final, but we’ll always have the 4th set tiebreak of the 1980 Wimbledon final. A great moment that, at the time, we didn’t see coming.