I still look up to my dad. He’s been gone fourteen years. A fascinating man, he had some wonderful rare attributes, a good share of challenges, and as far as the title goes, piercing blue eyes.
He loved big and had a hard time showing it. Words, hugs and easy companionship, those weren’t his way. But I know his love.
Once you get to understand a person, you can see past their personalities and idiosyncrasies. My dad had a quick fuse, no time for b.s., and had a hard time relating to children, even his own adult children. A classic strong silent type, his most prolific words were more of a gesture. Hands thrown out and palms thrown up, he’d offer an “isn’t it obvious” look and say “agh“. “Agh” meant anything. It could mean when asked why he thought a piece of art was valuable, “just look at it and of course you could see why“. It could mean when asked how are you feeling (he had a bad back), “what do you expect, of course it hurts, let’s move on“, it could mean when told something happy about his grandchildren, “well of course they bring naches, they’re spectacular“, ad infinitum. But all he would say is “agh“.
In my whole life, I only remember him telling THREE stories. One was the Yom Kippur story (see DISILLUSIONED), one I’ll save for when I tell an “American Dream” story, and the third wasn’t until the very last time he came to visit. During this visit, one evening sitting at the kitchen table late at night, he told my sons and me the cause of his lifelong back injury.
“When I was in World War II, I was stationed in Africa. My troop operated a tank. One day, a bomb exploded and hit our tank. Everyone was killed. I was thrown. After that, I knew my time was up – I had to come home.”
That was the end of the discussion. A profoundly impactful event – both physically causing a life of severe back pain and mentally/emotionally being the sole survivor, losing your “brothers” in battle, and nary a word until he was 87.
Once he had the means, my dad showered the people he loved with gifts. Always bought at a discount, nevertheless his gifts were of great quality and chosen specially by him.
After my siblings and I grew up, my mom and dad moved to Florida. Dad always insisted we come to visit, stay longer, and pretty much stay put in the 87′ degree house with him and my mom. Though adult children often begrudge this, it revealed his great desire to simply be in the same room or same house with his loved ones. Back then I didn’t understand it. We barely spoke when together…why would he care so much if we were in the room or house with him? I am so glad I didn’t argue and I just mostly stayed. I now understand that our presence was enough for him.
AND… my dad came to visit us. Until his last year at age 87, he would struggle alone (once my mom passed away) through the airports, get on a plane, freeze to almost death in my house (we kept turning up the thermostat but it was never warm enough for him), and he would come. Even when this very private man had to sleep in a rented bed in the middle of the living room because he could no longer make it up the steps to the guest room, he would come.
When he visited, my dad loved to go out for food or to see beauty. The museums or public gardens, the Thai, Chinese or Japanese restaurants, and the supermarket…these were his passions. He was fiercely independent and did what he wanted to do no matter how challenging his health. He would take himself downtown to the museums. Barely able to walk later in life, he refused a wheelchair. He used a cane and though his pace was not quick, he slow-tailed it through the museums on his own, only wanting one of us to come pick him up when he was done.
On his last visit before he passed away, my dad just couldn’t make it through the museums for the long long visits that he liked. My brother, my brother’s wife and I took him that day. My dad actually agreed to get in a wheelchair which was quite unusual but he so loved his museum visits and for the first time, it was the only way. I am so grateful to have that memory of going painstakingly through the museum with him as he would spend what seemed like hours and hours stopping and looking individually at each and every single painting.
He also so loved his grandchildren. My mom used to say, “your father doesn’t know how to get on with children.” He just didn’t know how to make small talk, play a game of cards, or even ask questions. But my kids knew their Poppy loved them totally.