For years, we'd been referring to him as "antsy pants," a result of his perpetual hurry to get to the restaurant, to get started with a card game, to get to the seats in the football stadium. Impatience was his trademark, until he was absorbed in a task. In his workshop, he was focused and methodical, slowed instinctively by the pace at which the process must unfold. He was humble in that way, aware that the task was king, and he its servant. On the dusty jamb of the workshop door was a yellowed card, in the shape of a dove, printed with a Bible quote, Romans 8:25—"If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." This was one of the best lessons he'd taught me there, without ever saying a word.
As we walked the 5,989-foot length of the bridge, he slowed, both because of the measure of the experience, and his quietly fading energy, a fact I couldn't ignore, though I tried sometimes. He had several pages of notes in his jacket pocket. He knew all about the engineers and the historical scandals and the braiding of the steel wires. He knew about the caissons and the bends and the falcons nesting above. It was a brisk, sunny spring morning as we moved among the hundreds of other walkers, stopping along the way to take in the view, pose for pictures, read the brass plaques. At one point, I pulled a pen from my bag and added to the graffiti on an I beam: Giffels Boys 3-29-17. When we reached the Brooklyn side, we found a beer joint, ordered a round, and sat and talked for a long time.
* * *
Back home, he continued working in his barn. After we'd finished my casket, he announced, "We made all the mistakes on yours. Now I can make mine the right way." So he sawed and sanded, tended to his gardens, took his self-prescribed two-mile walks in the park near his house. He planned an expanded family vacation on Lake Michigan—his children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, all who could make it there. The visit to New York seemed to have softened my father's apprehension about his story being told. He continued to ask questions about it, but as the months wore on toward publication, I noticed him mentioning—often to people who hadn't asked—this book his son had written, about him and a coffin.
By fall, we knew something was wrong. He was losing energy, leaving the house less often, but still enjoying his life there. He read every one of the books from the big box my editor had sent him, and told me he broke down crying at the end of Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. Which was strange, because I'd only seen this man cry once, and it was over a whole lot more than a sneaker mogul.
As my wife and I planned the annual Thanksgiving gathering at our house, a sprawling affair with 30-odd guests, he insisted on cooking the second turkey. As the holiday approached and his condition worsened, we tried to talk him out of it, but he was adamant. It was already in his freezer, he said. He'd researched the brine. The only concession he'd give was to accept help lifting the heavy plastic bag filled with brine and the bird into and out of the refrigerator.