Can my Dad & my Wife Become Friends in Heaven?

Before Jillian I’d never dated a white girl. I’d dated half white girls and Asian girls, plenty of blacks or Hispanics, but I just never so much dug “my own kind.” I don’t think I had a fetish, as fetishes tend to be more specific in preference, which apparently didn’t describe me. If anything, I suppose I had an anti-fetish.

Fools indiscriminately assign pathological etiologies to personal choices: All comedians must be on stage doing the (arguably) bravest and most difficult thing in the world because of their desperate need for attention, their weakness, ironically. And those who date outside their race are guilty of a fetish indicative of some unresolved issues. Instead, I always thought my preference was more superficial, in the honorable way. I like dark hair and dark skin. Even in elementary school (before I had many black/Hispanic classmates) my first crush was a darker Italian and Jewish girl. Surely it’s no coincidence that this also describes my final crush, Jillian.

My taste in girls never bothered my parents. Mom’s Jewish, and of course would have loved nothing more than a Jewish daughter in law, but this was not mutually exclusive to her being not a racist asshole. Mom was cool, as was Dad, who was surely more interested in cup size than skin color. Still, when Jillian and I first started dating I felt compelled to keep it a secret, ironically.

Jillian’s mostly Italian but her last name is Cohen and she is… wait for it… a doctor.A Jewish doctor! One night after our third date, I met my friend Ferrian, a fellow non-practicing Semite, for dinner. I told her about Jillian and how I was smitten, and without missing a beat Ferrian blurted out: “You can’t tell your mom!”

She understood what I did, that I couldn’t possibly get Mom’s hopes up to the height of all heights — a Jewish doctor — and risk them being shot down if it didn’t work out. It had to remain a secret, at least until we were official (my brother and I jokingly wondered if I could keep it a secret until the wedding, then reveal Jillian’s race and profession at the reception, at which point Mom’s body would blast off into outer space).

About a month after Jillian and I exchanged “I love you’s” my father requested a lunch date before his upcoming trip to (visit my sister in) Arizona. Throughout our meal it was on the tip of my tongue! I wanted to tell him, especially because Dad wasn’t even the one who would be so heart broken if the relationship hypothetically ended. But Dad was associated with Mom, and as a former juvenile criminal I’m self-conditioned to err on the side of secrecy, even when it seems excessive. Plus, the Yankees were in the thick of the ALCS versus Houston so we had plenty else to talk about. After lunch we hugged and kissed goodbye, but even as I walked down the block to the train I shook my head. Something didn’t feel right about it.

The next week I confessed my secret to Mom and realized I’d underestimated just how cool she is. “I’m dating someone I met at the doctor’s office,” I told her.

“Oh, really?” she asked. “One of the nurses?”

“No. One of the doctors,” I said.

Mom’s lips pursed together and sprayed saliva in laughter. “Really?! Good, honey. That’s good.” It was as if she was mocking me.

“Next you’re gonna tell me she’s Jewish,” she joked.

“She’s Jewish.”

Mom’s body thrusted forward and back as she practically fell over. She wasn’t impressed. She didn’t have her hopes up. Of course she was happy, but mostly she figured it was adorable, possibly frivolous and insignificant. Because I was so in love I forgot that I was 39 and my mother had had a front row seat to my dating life that had been so fickle and mutable for 25 years. Jewish doctor or not, Mom wasn’t attached to any results. She was the Buddha.

The following weekend Dad returned from Arizona and suddenly had to go to the hospital. After several similar episodes his heart finally gave out, and on October 15, 2017 he passed away. A few days later the Yankees lost the ALCS.

Jillian had to meet my mom and my sister, cousins and aunts, uncles, and the many extended Corleone families of Mom’s New Jersey Jewish mafia all for the first time at Dad’s funeral in Brooklyn. How well she handled it was a testament to her character. She would see many of them all again at our wedding, also in Brooklyn.

I still cry all the time when I talk about my dad. I was so sorry he didn’t get to meet Jillian, sorry that he didn’t get to know her, nor she him. They’re both such wonderful people, and my sadness around this missed opportunity has more than once been the impetus to new tears. He would have loved her, and not just for her cup size.

More than once I’ve been thinking about Dad while sitting with my now bride, enjoying her angelic energy and easy going nature and felt compelled to blurt out: “My dad would have loved you.”

“Aww, I would have loved him too,” she always says, followed by: “I feel like I do love him — even though I never met him… it doesn’t feel that way.”

I know what she means and maybe girls are just generally better at this than guys, as my mind insists on it being untrue. “You don’t know him,” I think. “You didn’t know him,” and it isn’t out of anger, but just disappointment with reality. Sometimes — often times — there’s no one to blame.

At our wedding my older brother pulled me aside and commented: “Dude… Dad would’ve loved her. She’s great. He really would have loved her.”

A few hours later came the only impromptu speech of our (small) reception. The best man and bride’s maid had finished theirs’, and my (Leo) older sister refused to be silenced. She stood up and brilliantly delivered an off-book, short and sweet welcoming of Jillian to the family, citing as her main point how much our father would have loved her. Were it not for the wine, my Y chromosome and the crowded party I definitely would have lost it. I knew she hadn’t overheard my brother and I talking earlier. We just all had the same thought.

I don’t know if I believe in Heaven or an afterlife or reincarnation, though I suppose I do err on that side. I know I’m as far from being Atheist as I am from Hasidic Jew. If there is a Heaven I imagine Jillian and Dad will one day become friends, and that makes me happy, for both of them. Dad’s sense of humor will be back to what it was before his last decade and he’ll make her belly laugh the way I’m able to on most of my good days. His sentimental, sensitive side will be so warmed my Jillian’s sweetness and softness. He’ll be affectionate with her, as he always was with all of us, rubbing the top of our heads, screwing up our hair and occasionally squeezing our shoulders or slapping our thighs until it hurt. Slap your own thigh, old man, get the hell outta here! He’ll do the same to her and she’ll probably be too nice to scold him for it… until they become really close, at which point she will. Trust me.

Dad was a great conversationalist before life got too difficult, and he’ll be fascinated to pick the brain of an integrative medicine doctor. He knew how to inquire. He asked great questions because they came from a place of genuine curiosity. Dad was a Manhattan ad executive in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a player in a multi-layered business with lots of energy and moving parts. He understood how dynamic environments operated and in turn got excited to learn about professionals in other endeavors. He’ll be that much more excited to learn about the one inhabited by his amazing daughter in law.

For our wedding Jillian and I scouted venues in Jersey, Westchester and all five boroughs, but I suppose it wasn’t a coincidence that we ended up getting married in Brooklyn, the same borough where Dad is buried. I can surely put aside any of my own agnosticism to know for sure that Dad was there with us watching that day (would he have made the commute to Westchester?). Maybe he helped give us the beautiful weather to facilitate our dream of a ceremony in the park (the day before was a wash-out shit show). Maybe it was him speaking through my brother and sister, respectively, just letting me/us know of his presence and approval. Maybe there is a Heaven or something like it somewhere, and there’s no maybe as to whether Dad and Jillian will be friends. They will.

Originally published at

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