I was thinking about my father Moish, (who passed in 2008) the other day as I was telling a friend about the way he always encouraged us to excel at whatever it was that we chose to do. My father was not a formally educated man, but a wise one who knew about people and the ways in which, when nurtured, they grew beautifully. He put his heart and soul into all of his relationships and everything else he did as well. Graduating from Bok Vocational High School in South Philly in 1942, he joined the Navy immediately afterward as an Electrician’s Mate. While serving, he also became a Golden Gloves Boxer and he tells the story of sparring with pre-Hollywood fame Charles Bronson. Who knows if it was family legend or if it truly happened..it made for interesting conversation. Alhtough I am not a fan of boxing; I admire his dedication to life long athleticism; running, jumping rope, bicycling and even into his 80’s; working out at the gym. On occasion, when my younger sister Jan and I would butt heads over something as children, my dad would put the gloves and protective equipment on us and offer us a chance to ‘battle it out’ that way. Of course, we would swat at each other, never connecting. I joke now that it is a good thing I was; even then, such a pacifist, since I could have developed a mean right hook. So many people experience learned helplessness and give up before they have a chance to succeed. I was offered the gift of learned resilience from both of my parents; each in different ways. My mother’s attitude was “What will be, will be, so why worry?” which didn’t preclude walking the talk and instead invited inspired action. My father’s mindset was ‘you do what needs to be done in all aspects of your life.’
Three incidents came to mind from my childhood during which, in the face of fear, my father showed us that we could pick ourselves back up and continue on. The first that I recall was when I was 7 and he was teaching me how to ride my bike sans training wheels. I was so excited about that transition, since it marked a time in my life, when I was beginning to feel like a big kid. Perched on the seat, daddy holding the back of the bike and running behind me as I pedaled down Pheasant Lane in the suburban South Jersey town of Willingboro, I told him he could let go. As he did, I wobbled and immediately crashed into the tree in the front yard. Ouch! After making sure I was uninjured, he said, “Ok, get back on the bike and let’s do it again.” And so I did, being bolstered by his belief that I was capable of mastering this skill. Because he had confidence in me, I had confidence in myself. Within minutes I was zipping down the street, riding like the wind~
Scene two took place when my family went to a ranch in Milford, Pennsylvania called Malibu (just looked on line and it’s still in existence!) The four of us; my parents, sister and I were riding our noble steeds. I still remember the name of mine…Ruby. I was about 10 and Jan was about 7 or 8. We were heading back down a rocky mountainous trail and the reins on the horse Jan was riding….snapped… and the horse took off like lightning. Terrified, she clung to it for dear life. My father; a city boy who was not accustomed to equine behavior, was close behind, yelling for the horse to stop…of course the horse only picked up speed. He knew his destination, as he headed for home. When the horse arrived in the corral, he slowed and then halted. Out of breath, my father checked on Jan, and along with staff from the ranch, lowered her to her feet and as he had with me when I fell off my bicycle, got her back on the horse; a different one, if memory serves, and led her around the corral.
The third time involved my mother. We were on another family vacay, heading back East from a visit to my Uncle Dave, Aunt Annette and cousins in Chicago. In Indianapolis, our blue station wagon was hit on the left rear quarter-panel by a white Corvette, narrowly missing the gas tank. The ‘vette crumbled and our car was left with a dent, but still drivable. Jan sustained a minor shoulder injury and I remember watching an episode of the original Star Trek while we were in the ER. Hours later, as we continued our journey, again my father, after being sure my mother was able, encouraged her to get back behind the wheel and drive for awhile. And she did.
What all of these events had in common was that my father was certain that he didn’t want us living in fear, so, kindly and with compassion got us ‘back in the saddle’. From him I learned, not just about strength, but resilience; that marvelous ability to bounce back no matter what. There was never focus on failure, only re-creation; seeing everything as life lesson from which we could gain experience. That has served me many times throughout the years, as when faced with challenges and tempted to crumble, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and started all over again.