In loving memory of my father, Bill Kahn.
All but six, Dad.
On this, the one year anniversary of my dear father’s death, I honor his memory by explaining “all but six.”
I first heard those words many, many years ago. I was in town on a visit with my parents. My father and I had stayed up late talking and sipping glasses of Scotch. Maybe two hours into our conversation, sometime after midnight, he paused, stared at me, and said, “Son, I have something to tell you.”
He always called me “Son.” Never “Mike” or “Michael.”
“What is it, Dad?”
“When I die and it comes time to order the epitaph for my tombstone, I want just the following three words on it: All But Six.”
I frowned. “All but six?” I repeated.
“What does it mean?”
“It’s short for ‘Fuck ’em all but six.'”
Another confused pause. “Who are the six?”
“The pallbearers, son. The ones who’ll carry your coffin to the grave.”
Another moment of silence. “I don’t understand, Dad.”
“I’ll explain, son. In this life you have to do what you think is the right thing to do, no matter what anyone tells you. When you follow your conscience, when you do what you believe is the right thing to do–the moral thing, the just thing–you’re going to get criticized by others. You’re going to get called names and you’re going to have people saying nasty things behind your back. But you got to stick to your principles and tough it out. You got to say to yourself, ‘Fuck ’em. All but six.”
He gave me a wink, and held his Scotch glass toward me. “Okay?”
I smiled and tapped my glass against his.
Throughout his life, my dad practiced what he preached. As a result of a lifelong commitment to equality, to fairness, and to social justice, his achievements were extraordinary, though often controversial at the time, as was recognized in this obituary from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and in this beautiful tribute read aloud by Rabbi Jim Goodman when my father received the Heschel-King Award for Social Justice in 2008.
But alas, when he died last June and it came time to specify the words to be etched onto his gravestone, his four children looked back on his life, and especially those final gentle days, and there emerged a consensus among my siblings and my wife Margi that Bill Kahn’s memory would be better served by words that conveyed his life’s meaning to friends and family instead of a cryptic three-word phrase. And thus above his name on the actual gravestone appear the words:
DEAR HUSBAND, FATHER, GRANDFATHER AND GREAT-GRANDFATHER
And below his name the following:
A TRUE FRIEND
CHAMPION OF JUSTICE
Even so, I was haunted by the memory of that night so many years ago, by the silent promise I made when we tapped those Scotch glasses together. And thus when I learned that the publication month for my novel would be the same month as Father’s Day and my father’s death, the language for the dedication page became obvious. And my dad, a huge fan of books (including his son’s), would hopefully smile over where his epitaph actually appears.
And so on this first yahrzeit of my father’s death, I raise a glass of scotch and repeat these words in his blessed memory:
All but six, Dad.