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Susan Estrich
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About Fathers


"Love," my father wrote to me, 35 years ago, "is the greatest thing in the world. This I have always believed — not money, not material possessions, and certainly not merely existing." My father was trying to explain to me why he was leaving my mother, breaking up our family, breaking my heart. "How much easier to have done nothing. But there would have been a price to what I call the easier way."

He paid the price. We all paid. For my 21st birthday, he sent flowers — to my sister. He had gotten married two days before, to Jayne, a woman closer to my age than his, a woman with three small children, a woman who thought he was rich and would buy her a house and change their lives. He couldn't bring himself to tell me. My sister kept the flowers.

I would like to believe he found love, but I know better. When he died three years later, he was sleeping in his office.

On the day he had the heart attack that killed him, he was in court arguing for people he knew would never pay him, grandparents trying to win custody of a child whose parents weren't fit to take care of him. It was my father's kind of case — clients who would never pay; a result that made him feel good.

When I got to the hospital, Jayne's first words were, "What about the house?" She had found a house she wanted to buy. My father's friends were there. They took me into another room and said, "You're in charge; you make the decisions. We don't trust her." And I did. I moved him to a better hospital, changed doctors, sat by his side and held his hand.

Ten days later, he was gone. He was my age when he died.

I know there are many good stepmothers, but I didn't have one. After we buried him, I never saw her again.

He left no money, no insurance, no assets. What Jayne did with his personal things, I'll never know. I would have liked his books, but really, I had nowhere to put them. I lived in a dorm. All I have now are the letters he sent and a few pictures of happier days.

My father was not perfect, is what I mean to say. He smoked and drank and married the wrong woman. He went months without seeing me. He didn't buy me presents or pay my tuition. He would start to write a letter, and it would sit on his messy desk for days.

But I loved him so. When I was a little girl, and my mother and sister would make fun of me for being chubby and bookish, my father would tell me I could be anything I wanted. When I was a teenager and never had a boyfriend, he would sit with me and discuss the world and the law and the things that mattered. He believed in me, even when I didn't believe in myself. He even thought I was pretty. I look like him.

I would not be who I am today if he hadn't given me permission to dream. No one was ever prouder of me than he was. The day he died was the saddest day of my life.

A few days after he died, they ran a column in the local paper. "A Good Guy Died Last Week" is the headline from 1977. I have spent 30 Father's Days without him, and I miss him still.

You don't have to be perfect is what I'm trying to say. You just have to be a dad. That's all. That's enough.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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