I was an inquisitive child who asked a ton of questions, and in adulthood, my mother told me that my sister never had to ask because I did it first. Many of them were about sex and most were at the dinner table. According to my dad, he would blush and say to my mom, […]
Pondering this question on Father’s Day; the 11th one since my dad, Moish, died on April 3, 2008. As he took his last breath, in the hospital bed in the den in the condo he and my mom lived in since the early 90s in their transplanted home of South Florida, I said goodbye to the man who taught me what it means to be a ‘mensch’ which is Yiddish for a good human being. It was Parkinson’s disease that robbed this vigorous man of his physical faculties and cognitive abilities. He was a lifelong learner who grew up in a Depression-era Russian Jewish immigrant home in South Philadelphia. One of four siblings, he was hardworking, generous and kind. He began earning money likely in his teens and contributed to the family income. My grandfather Jacob was a presser in a clothing factory and my grandmother Rebecca was a homemaker. She had to make the money stretch to feed, clothe and shelter a six-person family. That she did, since my father, aunt and uncles became successful people. They each married, raised families and had careers. All have since passed and left a loving legacy.
When my father and mother met, they formed an unbreakable bond. It was one of those ‘some enchanted evening’ moments when they literally did meet across a crowded room. At a party hosted by a mutual friend, my dad witnessed my mom having a brief, frosty conversation with her former boyfriend, who I refer to as ‘on again, off again Freddy,’ since they broke up and reunited several times over a few years. He had stood her up for their date on New Year’s Eve and my mom was having none of it when he beckoned her over. She said, “If you want me, you come to me.” My father’s thought was, “This girl’s got chutzpah (another Yiddish word that means ‘guts’) and he approached her. They spent the evening talking and he asked to drive her home. She told my grandmother when she walked through the door that she had met the man she was going to marry. Her prediction came to true when they were wed in the home of my great Aunt Edith. I still enjoy gazing at the photos of the two of them, youthful, even in their 30s, looking gorgeous.
When my sister Jan and I were kids, they modeled cooperation, devotion to family AND to the world. They volunteered in the community, at our synagogue, at the hospital (my mom), at the fire department (my dad), they donated to charities and were available to friends and neighbors as various needs arose. I often wondered how they juggled it all. They set an example for me to follow, as I volunteer my time as well, in between work, raising my son as a single parent and social activities.
My dad worked hard at his jobs over the years as a milkman for two dairies and then a bus driver for SEPTA. His hours were ‘crazy,’ per my mom. I wish he had worked fewer hours, since, although he was present with us when he was home, as a dedicated dad and not the ‘babysitter,’ as was the norm back in the 60s and 70s, I wanted more time with him. He taught me to skate, ride a bike, jump rope, box (yes, you heard it…he had been a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy). I could defend myself if need be, but I am a pacifist, thank goodness, or I could have developed a mean right hook.
He also modeled something less helpful…workaholism. I trace it back to his financially impoverished childhood that had the family on welfare (he called it ‘relief’) back then. He felt a sense of embarrassment that I think he vowed to overcome. In my own life, I have had to support myself before marriage and now since my husband died. We shared responsibility when my husband was alive. A lurking fear of not being able to meet expenses snarls at me from time to time. I am reminded that I have always been taken care of financially. I have marketable skills that had kept my son and me in the same house (he is now 32 and happily married, with a home of their own) and my bills are always paid. It was that insidious condition that led to a heart attack in 2014. It is one legacy I intend not to accept.
My father’s gregariousness is what I do embrace. He met friends every day. He knew someone nearly every place we traveled. It took forever to leave since there was always more to talk about as we were headed out the door. Although he was not a formally educated man, he was self-taught, read copiously, and could hold his own in most conversations. He was willing to hear people out and they became his teacher. He embraced silliness, and called us ‘goofy kids’. He didn’t show anger often, instead, like me, he held it inside, but would voice that certain things, “burned him up,” as he swigged Maalox. I tended to somaticize anger in the form of various illnesses over the years. I am working on that one.
He was deeply spiritual and practiced Judaism in his daily life, not just in synagogue, His prayer was practical and had legs under it, as he studied, taught and cared for the world.
He was a gym rat who spent hours lifting weights, running and working out on the machines. When I am there now, I can hear him offering encouragement…”Come on, doll baby, you can do it! Five more minutes. A few more reps.” He had six pack abs into his 70s. This photo was taken when he was five years older than I am now. At 65, he and my mom moved to Ft. Lauderdale where they lived until he died in 2008 and she passed in 2010.
He was also a consummate napper. He could fall asleep standing up. Post-heart attack, I welcome the sandman at odd hours as well.
My dad was wonderfully affectionate in word and action, a terrific hugger and cuddler, along with my mother. They raised me to be a Cuddle Party facilitator and FREE HUGS sharer.
I am grateful to have been born his daughter. I took a nap a little earlier today and now am headed to the gym to sweat it out.