Few of the stories I share about my father in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir are flattering. Physically and emotionally absent in my early childhood and dead before my 14th birthday, Sydney Gerson was not the kind of parental figure one thinks of as, well, much of a parental figure.
On top of that, it turns out that he was probably not my natural father, something I learned long after all the principals in that drama – him, my mother and my natural father – had passed away (another story I tell in Acts of Surrender).
And yet I carry his name, and of the three fathers I have experienced in my life, he is the only one I ever think of as "Daddy."
So on this Father's Day, a half-century after his death, I share this tale of love and reconciliation, adapted from Acts of Surrender.
It's August 11, 1997. After nearly two months of full-time road travel, Roxy (my cocker spaniel) and I check into the Shilo Inn in Boise, Idaho. Once I get Roxy situated, I change into my bathing suit and settle into the white-tiled steam room that is a fixture in many of the chain’s properties.
I have no plans, other than to shut my eyes and relax into the steam. But after a few minutes, I feel another presence in the room. I open my eyes and peer through the clouds of steam. I see no one.
I close my eyes again.
Immediately, I sense a white-robed man staring at me from across the room. He is tall, dark-haired, with a trim beard and mustache and a muscular build. A gold coronet rests on his head.
“Who are you?” I ask silently.
“My name is Arctur,” I sense rather than hear.
“Right,” I think dismissively. My mind is playing tricks on me.
“This is no trick. I am Arctur,” he repeats.
A silent conversation ensues, but for how long I cannot say. Time has no meaning among the mystical swirls of steam.
“There is someone here who wants to speak with you,” Arctur says after a while.
“Because this is so close to the anniversary of your father’s death...”
Suddenly I sense my father’s presence. My heart starts to race.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the father you wanted me to be,” I hear my father say. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in all the ways you deserved.”
I begin to sob.
“But I loved you and still love you,” he continues. “And I’m so proud of what you are doing and who you are becoming. I couldn’t be a role model for you, but you are now a role model for me. I’m watching you. I’m with you. I’m learning from you. Thank you.”
Moments later, still crying, I sense that Arctur and my father have left. I open my eyes. The steam room is empty. I wipe my face, collect myself and return to my room.
How close to the anniversary is it? I fire up my laptop and open my file of significant dates.
As close as it can be. My father died 29 years today — August 11, 1968.
Adapted from Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir © Mark David Gerson
Photos (long before I was born): My parents in Ste.-Agathe, north of Montreal in the early 1940s, and a family gathering in the later 1940s.
Look for Acts of Surrender in paperback or ebook from major online booksellers or signed by me to you from the book page on this website