Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Dad

My Dad was born in Paris in 1928. In September he will turn 80 years old. He has lived an interesting life and has been a good Dad. On this Father's Day, I'd like to tell you a bit about him.

Right after he was born, he contracted pneumonia and also had to have surgery for a growth behind his ear. He's lucky to have survived. As a little kid he had crossed eyes and had to wear glasses to correct his vision. It worked, but in the mean time he certainly looked like an easy target to a big kid who saw him waiting outside a store for his mom. The kid announced to my dad that he was going to hit him in the jaw. My dad with his confused, bright, crossed eyes asked the kid what a "Jaw" was. The kid told him and then did not hit him there. I think my dad's pitifulness won him over.

When my dad was really little the very nice lady at the bakery gave him a cookie as he was holding his mother's hand during her purchase. The next day, my dad had a gang of 5 kids asking for a free cookie at the bakery. Uh, no.

He had a friend with the nickname "Fish Ears" because he had nonexistent ears. As a scrappy Jewish kid in the 1930s, my Dad spent a lot of time proving that he was valid and valuable and so he excelled at sports; he played football, baseball and basketball. Because he was a Jew, at Easter time he got beat up, which was a whole other sport...

He grew up, got a B.A. from Columbia and an MBA from Harvard and he and his new wife went to Venezuela in the mid 50s to continue their new adventure together. My brother and sister were both born there. My other sister and I however, were born in a south suburb of Chicago--not quite the same romance as being born in a foreign, exotic country during a mostly peaceful revolution. Harvey is not Caracas.

My Grandpa taught a Sunday School for all the Reform Jews in my Dad's neighborhood and as part of it, my Dad, Uncle and all of the others had to go outside and shoot hoops at the end. Grandpa believed in a sort of ancient Greek ideal of intellect and physicality being married and supporting each other. He himself had gone to school in Madison on a basketball scholarship. So he got my dad and Uncle D. boxing gloves because that might be fun for the boys. Except the physicality wasn't really part of Uncle D.'s make up. Also, my father was older. Plus, my father was a big sturdy kid who would later on play football in high school and college.

Here is how the boxing went. My father would beat the crap out of his little brother for the length of a 78 record. He would want to bow out, and then my Dad would convince him that he really made progress that last round and they should just do another record--same thing all over again. My dad also wouldn't let his little brother into the "One Million Club" which had one million members, but not Uncle D. apparently. Thems the breaks--what are ya gonna do? Being the youngest just stinks sometimes. That's the law of the land.

When my dad was older and had a summer job driving a Coke truck making deliveries he very slowly backed up and very slowly ripped out a fence, picket by picket at a posh country club. The club was not his scene. When he married my English/Dutch, Episcopalian, gentile mom, both sets of dads tried to talk them out of it. My mom's dad felt she was too young to get married at 19. My dad's dad warned my mom that there would be certain country clubs that would not let them in. It really wasn't their scene any way. Really, that was OK. The last time my Dad was at a country club, he ripped their fence out.

Every summer, my dad took us camping in the North Woods. He taught me how to fish, how to paddle a canoe, how to read and orient a map, how to portage. It's largely because of my camping experiences that I understood how I was part of the natural world which led to my wanting to homebirth. I knew that I could, because I am natural. I knew that my anatomy and physiology and mind and body and heart could work like that because that's what they're all supposed to do.

I think one of the reasons my Dad felt strongly about going camping with us every summer was that he wanted to get away from the rat race and he wanted to act out his childhood's greatest ambition. When he was little, he was asked what he'd like to become when he grew up. He answered that he'd like to be an Indian. Not to co-opt a Native American culture or a very vague Great Neck, Long Island 1930s idea of "Indian", but to live a life in Nature, with Nature and with the Nature within is what he really meant but couldn't quite say as a boy.

Nowadays, my Dad writes plays and has them produced at community theaters and even had one produced as part of a juried selection in New Jersey. When my Mom goes to aerobics class a couple of times a week, my Dad rides his bike to the local lake where they have their canoe docked and he paddles himself around for exercise and maybe to connect with Nature and to clear his head. I like to picture him doing that. I can see him making sure, steady J strokes through misty, early morning smooth water, it broken only by the ripples radiating out from his paddle and the canoe.

My Dad gave me sage words growing up:
  • Time is all you have. (His father had told him that too)
  • Perfect is the enemy of good. (He got that somewhere)
  • Make a good today, which will create a good tomorrow and a good yesterday. (I think he might have gotten that somewhere)
  • Act as if the world isn't going to blow up, because it just might not...(This is definitely his)
I should explain that last one. During the early 80s I was very concerned with the nuclear arms race. I was sure that we were going to have a melting, firey, nuclear holocaust either by crazy choice or by accident. I knew we would have a nuclear war. My Grandmother (my father's mother) told me I had Weltschmerz which means world pain. My father wanted me to live my life and not get hung up by the world's problems, except that's not how I roll! Besides, I learned at his knee.

My Dad was on the school board in my town when they figured out how to desegregate the schools in our district by busing African Americans from a separate area at the edge of town to our local schools. I have faint memories of being at board meetings with my mom and me doodling with chalk on the blackboard at the back of the room. I remember trying to discuss all of this at the tender age of 7 with my neighbor down the street as we walked to school. She told me if you were against busing, you were for Nixon. Her family was for Nixon. I wasn't sure who I was for or what busing was, but I knew we weren't for Nixon. God!

Once, we were on a family vacation to Colorado, when we saw a smushed snake in the road. It had probably been run over and was struggling. My Dad insisted that we put a bandaid on it to at least cover the wound and maybe give it a chance. It probably didn't work, but it showed me what caring meant. It showed me that it's OK and good to stop and try. I've carried that lesson with me my whole life.

It's not all sweetness and light with my Dad. Don't be fooled. I've also learned that my Dad can grow increasingly paranoid and accusatory under certain circumstances. One time, we were all at my parents' house and we were all bustling around helping with meal preparations. My Dad was doing the bulk of the cooking and was keeping track of everything he was doing except for one thing...

"Alright! Who's the wise guy who stole the dill!!"

He said that in all seriousness. Really. Well, as you might imagine, no one had stolen the dill. He quickly found it. All I know is, do not get between my Dad and his herbs. Seriously.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you and hope you have a fun day today.

Here is some cyber dill for you.

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