Monday, July 4, 2016


My father died 9 years ago, on July 4 2007.

A few weeks before, he came up to Portland for Father's Day. I had taken Anna to a pottery painting place and had her smear paint around a tile for Dad. I don't remember the card I gave him. Given that I had a toddler, it probably wasn't much. But 9 days before he died I received this email form him:

On Jun 25, 2007, at 8:00 PM, Steven Rappaport wrote:

I forgot to comment on one of the things you said on my Father's Day card: "We're really lucky to have this time together."

I just want to agree, in spades, that we are REALLY lucky to have this time together -- because of Anna's majorly sweet age, because of the quality of our relationship, and because we both know that these opportunities won't last forever. One day they will be sweet memories, but for now they are reality, and it's great that we both appreciate that in real time.

I love you, daughter.


Be generous with your love. Remember that our time here is not guaranteed. The biggest gift my father gave me was letting me know that he knew how much I loved him before he died. 

I love you, Dad.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec 5, 1942 — July 4, 2007

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Zeda Tree

Have I written about the Zeda Tree before? Honestly, I can't keep track anymore.

Sometime after Dad died, I received a small, nondescript cardboard box containing half of Dad's ashes (the other half went his wife, Candyce). For a long time, I didn't know what to do with this box. It sat in my closet and from time to time I would forget what was in it and get a terrible surprise when I opened it up again.

Anna didn't sleep very well as a baby and I spent countless hours sitting with her on the couch in the living room, watching the neighborhood wake up through the big picture window. One day as I was looking out, I noticed David in the yard digging a hole in which to plant a new Dogwood tree. Somehow I knew this was exactly where I needed Dad to be — close by; somewhere where I could glance out my window and be reminded of him daily.

Over time, we've added some details: a stepping stone with Dad's name, fairy houses, dream catchers. The tree has thrived, growing almost as tall as the house in the past few years. Just this morning I watched as a dozen tiny birds flitted in and out of it before moving on to their next adventure.

We call that tree the Zeda Tree, and it very much a part of our daily life. Today as I looked out my window wondering what to share about Dad on what would be his 73rd birthday, I saw the Zeda Tree and I knew.

I love you, Dad. Thank you for always letting me know what story to tell when I don't think I've got any words left.

Steven Millman Rappaport
December 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Growing Up

When I lost my dad, I lost the privilege of ever being able to be the child again. My father was my safe place, the grown-up I could turn to when I didn’t know the answer, or needed help, or advice.

When I was in high school, I got pregnant. When my mother found out, she handled it in her typical manner — by physically backing me into a corner and screaming in my face. Fortunately, she then called my father, who’s first words to me were “Are you okay?” And though I wasn’t, he made it ok.

In San Francisco many years later, David stepped on a dirty hypodermic needle and we found ourselves in the Emergency Room at 2am to get him on AZT. Once we were home and David was asleep, I spent the next few hours curled up on the floor of the bathroom crying because I thought my husband was going to die. At first light I called my Dad. I don’t remember what he said, just how much I needed him then and how relieved I felt to be able to talk to him then.

Years later still, David had to travel abroad for work just a few months after Anna was born. I was sleep deprived and overwhelmed. In the middle of the night the all of the smoke detectors in the house, which were connected electrically and could not be disabled, started their high-pitched beep every 60 seconds. Between a baby who was nursing every 2-3 hours and the stress of the shrill noise, I was a mess. Around 4am I emailed Dad telling him I was losing my mind. I can still feel the profound relief I felt when he called first thing that morning and said he was on his way.

And, of course, there’s a flip side to this. Not only can he not comfort me, but there’s no one to be proud of me. To feel nachas when I succeed at something. My father doesn’t know I paint, or that his granddaughter is everything he would have hoped. He doesn’t know that everything is turning out ok. 

Maybe this is a part of growing up that everyone experiences. I know that many of my friends’ parents are going through both physical and mental declines, and that the children are becoming the parents more and more. And, of course, eventually we all lose our parents.

Eight years ago today I was sitting on my couch holding a sick 2-year-old when the phone rang. David answered and then came to me and said it was bad news. I asked what kind of bad news, and he answered “the worst.” I have spent the past eight years avoiding July 4th. We have spent at least four of these years in other countries on that date, in part to get away from the celebration. But today is different. Today I am ready to spend the day with friends and family, barbecuing in our backyard. I will make a toast to Dad, thanking him for giving me all that he did for the 39 years I had with him. It still hurts, but I’m used to being the grown-up now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another birthday

Christmas, 2006: the last Christmas we spent with my dad.

Usually I have so much to say when I write these posts, but today I find myself at a loss. I just wish my dad was here, as always. I miss him.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007

Friday, July 4, 2014

Magic Man

How is it that I've never told the story of the purple room here?

When I was a kid, my dad was a magic man. I think lots of people felt this way about him, but I have proof. I have the stories.

Sometime around 1978 my father moved to a small, Oregon town called Pleasant Hill. He found a 5-bedroom log cabin on a few acres of land, the gravel driveway a mile long. The first time I visited the Pleasant Hill house, the room that would be mine was empty save for a hideous, wall-to-wall, red shag carpet. Also living in this house were my dad's then-girlfriend; her ancient, very hostile cat; and a lesbian couple running a graphic design business called Laughing Giraffe. For reasons that will always remain a mystery, the red shag carpet in my room was where the cat chose to shit.

While spending that first weekend in the house, my father asked me one of his “blue-sky” questions. Those questions turned out to be a constant part of our relationship over the years, but I didn't know that then. “What would your dream bedroom look like?” “Purple,” I told him.

Throughout my childhood I flew between my parents every 6-weeks, or whenever there was a school holiday, whichever came first. The next time I visited my dad, the first question out of my mouth was “Did you have a chance to do anything to my room?" And in perfect Steven fashion he explained that yes, in fact, he had. He went on to describe how he'd had a clear, plastic mat laid down over the entire carpet so that while you could still see the shit, you wouldn't step in it. Ever wonder where I learned to be such a damn smart-ass?

When we arrived at the house, my bedroom door was closed. Opening it, I cried tears of happiness for the first time in my life. A tricolor purple carpet replaced the ugly, red one. A white canopy bed had a beautiful dark purple spread, with a gauzy lavender canopy covered in tiny purple flowers. The sliding-glass doors were covered by curtains made of the same fabric. All the bedding had been handmade by a local woman who seemed to be to be 100 years old (she also made the amazing, quailed hippie vests and skirts that my dad bought me over the years). The walls were painted lavender and sitting in front of one of them was an unfinished, wooden dollhouse for me to paint.

There are so many stories like this about my dad and I want to be clear — this is not about money. It wasn't that he spent money to give me this room. It was that he heard me. He paid attention to the things I told him about myself and he did what he could to make my (and many other people's) blue-sky dreams a little closer to reality. That was the magic.

I love you, Dad. Thank you.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec. 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007

Note: Sadly, there are no photos of the purple room. The above photo was taken in the Pleasant Hill house around the same time as this story takes place. We are shown here dressed in our finest 1970s polyester and corduroy. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

For Papa

When I was a little girl, I would climb into my grandfather’s lap, get right in his face, and say “I love you, Papa Artie”. He was a man’s man: a card-playing, Sinatra-singing, tough guy with a heart of gold. Inside he was a pussycat, but not many people called him out in that way.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And he’d grumble something under his breath and give me a punch in the arm, or a slap on the back.

Many years ago I was visiting my grandparents in New York. We were walking around in the City, my grandparents side-by-side. For some reason I noticed my grandfather drop back one step and cut around to the other side of my grandmother. It wasn’t until after he had done that that I noticed the guys standing on the corner up ahead. My grandfather had silently put himself between her and them. I don’t know if she ever even noticed, but I did and it stayed with me.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And over time he’d say, “Me too.”

When my grandfather turned 75, my grandmother threw him a surprise party. There were loads of old friends and family, all gathered in their home. This was in the late nineties, years before tragedy struck and robbed them of everything. During the party I went into their guest room to get something from my suitcase, and I saw an envelope tucked in the side, not meant to be found until I’d gotten back home. In it was a note from my grandfather saying that even with all his old friends there, what meant the most to him was that David and I had come.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And finally he’d say, “I love you, too.”

A few days ago my grandfather fell, hit his head, and never regained consciousness. I was there for one of his first bad falls, over 10 years ago now.There have been many falls since then; many heartbreaks; too many indignities to count. Time hasn’t been kind to my grandparents. I wasn’t there this time; in fact, I didn’t even know about it until a few days later when I was told he was being moved to hospice care. Each day, I spoke to my grandfather on the phone. I told him stories of our life together; of when he taught me to dive, or when he sang to me at my wedding (an amazing, a cappella version of Because God Made Thee Mine that brought the house down). And then I sang to him; High Hopes, many first verses of Beatles songs, lullabies. I’m told that on the last day of his life, when his breathing was shallow and fast, it slowed from 28 beats-per-minute to 22 while I was on the phone with him.

By the time I was in my 30s, my grandfather had gotten so used to saying I love you to me that sometimes he’d even say it first.

These past few days I’ve had a lot of time to think, and what I’ve come to is this: I loved my grandfather completely and he knew it. And he loved me right back. We knew exactly who we were to each other, and that is an amazing gift. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thirteen (for Dad)

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

—Leonard Cohen

Weird how things show up in your life just when you're in the right place to receive them.

I've been thinking the past few days about this blog post, the 13th in remembrance of my dad since he died (every December 5 and July 4 since 2007). I've been feeling pissed off at him. Pissed that he's not here, seeing my beautiful daughter grow up. Pissed that he's not here, seeing me rediscover myself as a artist. Pissed that he's not here.

And then tonight, as Anna was practicing piano on Dad's keyboard underneath his gold record, I looked at her fingers and remembered how he looked at her fingers after she was born and noted with pride that they were long. Good piano-playing fingers.

And then within the hour, I saw this quote online. I'm not a big Leonard Cohen fan and I'd never heard the song, but I saw the quote and immediately knew it was speaking to me of Dad. I knew it was again time to see the cracks for what they are, the way to let the light back in.