A Tribute to Pete
From Michael Solow, Alex's father-in-law
The day I learned that Pete had died, I wrote the following in my journal: My wonderful son-in-law’s one-of-a-kind, broke the mold, irascible, passionate, voluble, kind, committed, loving and oddly lovable dad has died. Suddenly, shockingly. Peter Van Schaick. Petey Van, as we all called him.
He was an avid health and fitness enthusiast, and apparently had been working out when this happened. He had survived heart surgery several years ago, which bought him more time to be with us, be in the world. More time with his son and daughter in law. More time to fight his many good fights. To grapple with his many good thoughts.
During the pandemic, Petey Van and I exchanged a number of emails about how best to protect oneself in terms of nutrition and supplements. He was deeply and widely read on these matters and shared his knowledge with me eagerly, and generously.
He was a presence, a force, to be sure — vivid, intense, with a ready laugh, a colorful story. He could be a challenge too, ready with an argument, a rebuttal, but always with his voluminous research to back it up.
He was as fully engaged a person as just about anyone I’ve ever known. Pete and I never talked personal philosophy, but the idea of existential engagement — to be engagé the French call it — seems so central, now that I think of it.
“Existentialism” a philosophy website says, “is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe.” Isn’t that just so…so Petey Van? He engaged deeply, he defined his own meaning, he chose his own pathways.
What I appreciated most was to see him basking in his son. Pete was aglow when with his beloved Alex. I remember thinking once, at our house, as I watched Pete while he and Alex bantered in an involved conversation, that this — this — is precious, this deep relationship between father and son, parent and child. They had that great father-son bond of love and greatest affection.
And, as Alex is learning, as I have learned, that bond is unshakeable, unbreakable, and will endure. I lost my father nearly 29 years ago, when I was 37. Yet “lost” is not quite right. Dad is still with me. He never left. He is not lost. His love is present, right there, inside of me. Just as Pete will always be with Alex.
I’d like to add to my tribute this letter to Fanny McCulloch from Abraham Lincoln to the daughter of his friend William McCulloch, who died fighting in the Civil War.
This was in December 1962, 9 months after his son had died of typhoid fever. Lincoln knew loss only too well. His mother died when he was just a boy.
"Dear Fanny, It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases.
In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.
I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again.
To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.
The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.
I recognize that “sad, sweet, pure and holy” feeling. It is what I feel whenever I think of my father and mother.
If you have had the good fortune to be loved and cherished by a parent, you will come to know that “sad, sweet, pure and holy” feeling.
And it will fill you, full, to the brim.