In November of this year, my father went into the hospital for a heart operation. After 6 months of health struggles in and out of the hospital, last night he passed away.
My father was a very special person -- I've never met anyone like him. He was unassuming, generous in praise and possessions, and took great pleasure from talking about ideas of all kinds.
He was a professor of sociology but his interests were wide-ranging and eclectic, and reading was always at the center of his life. The place he lived (in soho in new york) was a factory floor that he and his father and my mother converted into living space -- and every wall was turned into a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. He left probably 10-15 thousand books.
When he found an activity that truly captured his interest, it wasn't unusual for him to quietly chew on it regularly for the rest of his life. He baked bread and bought books on baking bread for all of my life, he made his own shoes and hats, and satchels. These were curious hobbies but he seemed to find some continual meditative value in these things. He was a painter and a photographer, and he also wrote a great deal (though could rarely be bothered to edit). Stories mostly, some sweet, some odd. Several years ago he decided to write a musical, and so he did. He taught himself enough piano and then actually recorded himself singing the odd eccentric songs. As someone who has always been terribly shy, and always seen my father as quite shy, it was moving and inspirational to see and hear him sing one of his songs at a family gathering.
I learned how to use computers because of my father, and that was how we bonded as I grew up in the 70s and 80s. We used to go to computer shows and take walks on the weekend to bookstores and computer stores. We would would go through computer magazines together (Creative Computing, Byte, Microcomputer), and he would encourage me to learn how to program. He loved computers, building them, using them, reading about them, learning about them. Every computer I've had in the last 20 years has been one he built from parts and then was delighted to give to me. He was the most encouraging enthusiastic supportive person when it came to the idea of making things and solving problems. Nothing made him happier than talking about trying to solve big problems.
He was always interested in mathematics and in the last couple of years he and I coordinated the reading of some books on Set Theory, and discussed them over the phone. As with many things, he loved to step back and ask how one could build a such a powerful system out of such a small set of axioms, and how could these ideas could be applied to other areas. It was my own failing that I was often impatient with him when he wanted to talk about such things. When I went to visit him in the hospital a couple of months ago I was surprised to see a new book he had bought on learning electronics sitting in his reading pile -- a book that i had just coincidentally been daydreaming of buying on amazon. "Take it" he said -- as he always said if you stumbled on something of his that you expressed interest in.
It was hard watching him suffer these last months, and mostly I'm just relieved that his suffering is over. It hasn't really hit me yet that he is gone. But last night as I got to talk to him for the last time, I told him about some physics books I had been reading and it hit me very hard that it was the last time I was going to be able to tell him about a book or an idea. Goodbye pop, I will miss you so much.