Atta Boy Billy!
Updated: Jun 19
I am grateful for all I have seen in the 56+ years which I call my life.
My eyes have seen some of the great wonders of the world: pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, towers-Twin and Eiffel, the plains of Africa and Mount Kilimanjaro. I have seen a child being born; I have seen lives saved.
And I have witnessed a life; beautifully lived.
My father, William Alan Lipton-Billy-passed away on June 15th after two weeks of hand-to-hand combat with the forces trying to call him home.
In the end it was peaceful which gives us all great comfort. But still, he is gone.
And so the tears flow.
In the summer of 1959, my father was driving his white convertible down Finmore Drive in White Plains, NY. Visiting his sister at house number 161, he drove east down the narrow residential street. Passing number 167 my father, barely 20 himself, came upon a 19-year-old girl walking with a boy on his bike.
My soon to be mother, and my (now 61-year old) cousin Paul.
What my mother and father talked about in those first few moments belongs to history. But the rest of their story belongs to us!
My mother walked away from their brief encounter not knowing: Her life’s path had just been altered! My father pulled a Tremont Paint business card from his pocket. Flipping it over, he grabbed a pen and wrote, “I just met the woman I am going to marry!”
My father was a man of his word!
Barbara Gersh, Bobbie to all except me and my sister, captured his attention at that first moment.
And she held it, to his last.
Of my father’s 81 years on this spinning rock, he spent 61 of them by the side of his chosen lover.
Without a moment of regret.
I won’t insult their love by trying to describe it in these few words. My parents shared an unusual connection that could only be understood by those who spent the decades up-close to them. It would take years of watching them together to even understand the depth of their connection.
He was her hero. She was his goddess.
Together, they started laughing as the years marched.
Its from my father that I get my sense of humor. If he were reading this, he would add “and your good looks!” just to make the point!
My father insisted on laughing through life. I suggest it! It’s a wonderful attitude to carry as you walk your path. His life, like yours and mine, had its troubles; Billy laughed through them all. The hilarity at my grandmother’s funeral are family legend. Billy was so filled with gratitude for her nearly 98-years that he didn’t see the point of spending the afternoon crying.
Life, is to be celebrated.
And so, through the difficult times that life brings all souls, Billy kept laughing. During times of sadness, anxiety and pain it was always my father’s sense of humor and his desire to see what was right with life which kept us all pointing true north!
May 31, 1970.
Before meeting my mother, dad had another source of true north in his life. Her name was Sydney Lipton. Seven years his senior, my aunt Syd, Sunny to the family, was my father’s sister and first love. Her love for him was his strength. Until on May 31, 1970. After struggling for many years with a mental illness which today would be fixed with a pill and a $25 co-pay, my aunt Syd took her own life.
I was only seven on that fateful day. But its details are charred forever in my memory. It would take his own passing for my father to lay down that burden-and guilt! I know in a way that only a son can know: My father cried for her daily.
But we rarely saw it!
Groups of people fell for my father’s charms. Painters and golfers were the two groups most attracted to his energy; right behind the woman.
Women adored my father like no other demographic. Through his recent illness, I have been staying with his cousin Carol. One night while trying to find some peace with a cigar, Carol joined me and Guy on the patio. We feasted on her stories of his youth.
Most of them about women pushing to get in close to Billy. Including Carol and her sister, who used to fight over who got to sit next to him at the dinner table!
I suspect that my sister Marci, my elder by 22-months, could explain that attraction better than I could. So much a part of my father’s heart, it was Marci who was there to see its final beating.
Their love so strong that she would have it no other way.
I would have never allowed my father to leave this world alone-I would have found the strength to hold his hand as he passed from our grip. But I will be forever grateful to my sister for saving me the pain of having to find that strength.
My father put others before himself and that level of service was not just reserved for the family. In his later years in “God’s waiting room” as the governor of Florida recently referred to his state, he used his good health and strength to help others. He often drove neighbors to the market or the doctor. When Covid-19 struck my father put on a mask and gloves and started shopping for those who should not go themselves due to their increased risk of the deadly infection. If it ever occurred to him that at 81, HE was high risk if he were to contract this illness, he never let on to that knowledge.
My father was always teaching. From him I learned how to love a woman (respect comes first), how to parent (tough lessons and tender love) and even how to sell paint (get your price)!
In the end he shared his final lesson: how to face fear. Before his surgery, he knew how damaged his heart was. He knew the risks he faced. And I knew he was scared. He had to have been, everyone would be!
But it was laying on what would be his deathbed, where he taught me his final lesson; what bravery looks like. I’m grateful for the lesson, though I hope I never need it.
Last night when I spoke to Buck, we cried. A lot!
But after the tears, she shared how grateful she felt. She was grateful for her friends, helping her through this difficult time-stuck in Columbus when she would rather be with her family. Grateful despite the pain of not being able to hug her grandmother at the moment she most needed to.
I heard my father in her gratitude. He was teaching her too. Not with his words but with his life. All you had to do to learn your lessons was watch. I was watching, from the beginning.
Atta Boy Billy, for a life well lead!
Leaving him to my sister’s care an hour before his passing, I thanked him. I am grateful for all he taught me. For each laugh. For each cry. For each time my strength wasn’t enough and he lent me his. For each lesson.
And for 56 years of looking at that smile.