I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately, especially since Hounded came out. My love for dogs can be traced directly to his love for them, well, one dog in particular. Hounded begins with the memory of my dad bringing home our first dog, King, who was tied up and abandoned in a dilapidated bodega in one of New York’s worst neighborhoods. The degree of love he felt for that dog was rivaled only by the anger he felt for the person that left this beautiful animal to die a slow, painful death. The fact is, if it was a cat that was left in that store I’m fairly confident we would have been the owners of a scrawny tabby, and I would have been the author of a very different book. Ultimately, this isn’t about the kind of animal that my dad saved that day; it’s about the kind of person my dad was.
My dad was a really good guy. I know that doesn’t sound very profound, certainly not the sort of sentiment one would expect to hear from someone whose father has been gone more than three decades. But, trust me: my dad would approve of that description. Over the years I’ve heard many people describe my dad in those exact words, “He was just a really good guy!” He was the kind of guy who gave when he was the last person who could afford to give. Someone who never had to extend a helping hand because it was in a continual state of extension. Late-night airport pick-up? Mid-February battery-jump? Paul Ziselman was your man. Sure, I suppose a lot of my memories of him have been buffed to a high gloss, flawless finish by the passage of time and the love that a son has for his father but this really is the way I remember him. Not as a superhero but, rather a super person. While the pain of loss has never left me, the distance of years has allowed me to see my dad through an objective lens. And what I see was a good person – no more, no less. His memory requires no adornment from me – it stands on its own merits. And while I certainly miss my dad, what hurts me the most are the things he has missed out on, none more so than meeting his granddaughter.
I tell her stories about him, hoping to bring him to life, if just for a moment, but stories are a poor substitute for kisses and hugs. I hold out hope that some of the stories somehow find their way into her being, via some kind of familial osmosis, but there are no guarantees in life. Somewhere, there is a 19-year old version of myself that will testify to that harsh truth. Although, part of her grandpa is already alive and well in her, even though she’s not aware of it. But I see it.
Every so often a particular commercial comes on television. It is 3 minutes of watching unwanted, uncared for animals pass before our eyes, while a somber-toned voice implores us to donate money to help these haunting, forgotten creatures. As soon as it comes on Emmy gives me a hard look, a look that says it’s hard for her to look at the screen. But she does. Something compels her to do so. I see her eyes start to pool.
“I wish I could take all those dogs and bring them to live here,” she says with considerable conviction.
“I know baby, it’s sad.”
“How can people do that to an animal?”
And, just like that, with that simple question, I hear a voice I haven’t heard for thirty-two years. A voice tinged with equal parts love and anger. It now resides in the body of a beautiful 12-year old girl who is more like her grandpa than she will ever know.
“You know something Em? You’re a really good girl,” I proudly reply.
Then again, I would expect nothing less from the granddaughter of a really good guy.