This Sunday will be my first Father’s Day without my own father, Harry Shapira, who died of cancer on October 13, 2013 in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. My dad, the executive vice president of our family’s distilled spirits company Heaven Hill, was 66. He died a month before the birth of my second child, Hilary. Below are remarks I delivered earlier this month at Hilary’s baby-naming celebration at my home in Washington, with my wife Caroline and our oldest daughter, Margot, 2.
Caroline and I flew down to Louisville last summer, and we decided to tell Mom and Dad a secret. Over dinner one night, we broke the news: We were naming our second child after Dad’s deceased father David Shapira. She’d be born in two months, but we already had picked out her name: Daphne Shapira.
My dad teared up. Was he proud that his father David — one of the founders of our family bourbon business — would live on through our second daughter Daphne? Or, was Dad, who was 10 years into battling cancer, crying because he knew, deep down, he wouldn’t get to meet her?
I chose to believe Dad cried because he was happy. I imagined he cried because he was excited to come here to our home and attend her baby-naming party, just like the baby-naming party we had in late 2012 for Margot.
I imagined Dad would wear the same dark suit, the same red tie. He’d stand on this same back deck and pose for the same family picture. A picture that I cherish: On the left, Mom, Caroline, Me, Margot, my brother Adam. On the far right, Dad.
About six weeks after we told Dad about Daphne, he began his decline. In the hospital room, I leaned into his ear. Our daughter will be named after you. Her name will start with an H, I told him. Dad was too ill to say anything. I hoped he understood the implications: That we were honoring him. And that it was okay for him to stop struggling.
Shortly afterward, still in the hospital room, I began writing the newspaper article I had always dreaded. But what photo would accompany Dad’s obituary?
We opened our laptops. There was the photo of Dad swimming in the pool with Margot. Dad sitting crossed leg on the floor playing with Margot. Dad sitting in the pews of Adas Israel Congregation, holding Margot.
And there it was: The photo of Dad standing on this back deck, wearing the dark suit and red tie for Margot’s baby naming party. We cropped out Mom. We cropped out Caroline. We cropped out me. Then Margot. Then Adam. So there was just Dad. Only a few of us reading his obituary in the Louisville Courier-Journal or in the funeral program knew that the photo was not a corporate mug shot.
The photo came from here, on this back deck, on a day like this.