Hard-working. Respectful. Brilliant. Honest. Strong. Frugal, but generous. Cautious visionary. Loving.
My earliest memories are not true memories, but reconstructions extrapolated from old photos. My very handsome young Dad holding my very young self high in the air. My very tanned young Dad posing with us in front of the Colonial Inn in Miami, Florida.
My true memories kick in later and are predominated by a visual of my very exhausted Dad sleeping in his favorite spot on the den couch where he collapsed after work, a newspaper strewn across his chest and a half-eaten apple in his relaxed, open palm. I was always aware that he worked long and hard days at the scrap yard. Indeed, he was up and gone before I woke up to get ready for school.
One clear memory is the cigar smoking episode. As a young teen, I climbed into his car and complained about the "yucky" cigar smells emanating from the upholstery. Although he enjoyed that vile habit, he declared then and there that he would quit. And quit he did.
Dad was never a big talker. He didn't have to be. My Mom was the big personality. When he did speak, however, one tended to listen. I realize in retrospect that it was because when he did speak, he had something valuable, insightful and erudite to add to the conversation. That continued until last week. I think he always was the smartest guy in the room.
To this day, I can barely tell even a tiny white lie, take cuts in line or lie about my age (unfortunately). In a million almost imperceptible ways, my Dad imparted a very clear moral compass. One distinct memory is the theater ticket episode. After standing in line to go see a movie with my Mom, sister and brother, we approached the ticket agent. My Mom whispered to me that I could be eleven-years-old for the moment, even though I had recently celebrated my twelfth birthday (and looked more like ten), thus qualifying me for the children's ticket price. My Dad overheard this exchange, cast a mildly disapproving look our way, walked up to the agent and requested four adult tickets and one child ticket for my younger brother. This incident left a deep, lasting impression on me.
Dad's strength of character could only be matched by his physical strength. This, of course, became a relative concept as he entered his 90’s. Growing up, I was aware that he had a reputation as a fine athlete. He won trophies in racquetball, squash and handball. He continued besting men half his age in these sports as the years progressed. Later, tennis took its turn, golf, and long distance biking.
The most recent athletic developments were very telling of his perseverance. First, as the hand-eye sports became less feasible, he took up weight-lifting at the club. At the age of 85, he outlifted my sons, both in their thirties. I kid you not. On some machines, he lifted the entire stack of weights. It defied nature.
In his early 70’s, Dad was the founding member of the Delray Chain Gang, a group of long distance bikers. As his long distance biking adventures began to wane as a result of his diminishing vision, he began to ride a ten-mile circuit within the safer confines of his gated community. As that became challenging, his last efforts in Florida consisted of driving around and around his cul-de-sac until he clocked exactly 10 miles. Really? Who does that?
FRUGAL BUT GENEROUS
The frugal stories could fill a book. My Dad, a self-made, hard-working man carried his formative, Depression years deep within his soul. The most recent examples are explanatory. We were
shopping at Whole Foods together. He loves honeydew. He asked me how much they were as he could not see the sign and I told him $5.99. He harrumphed and said, "Forget it...they should be no more than $4.99." He did not buy his beloved honeydew.
Around ten years ago, against my Dad's wishes, my sister Linda bought him a winter coat. Having recently sold his Florida condo and staring down his first Michigan winter in years, he insisted that he didn't need to spend the money on a new coat. My sister overruled that decision.
Frugal? Oh yes. But generous beyond words. He willingly and graciously invested in every reasonable venture his children proposed. He never permitted his children or grandchildren to open their wallets on any of the numerous family vacations or dinners we enjoyed over the years.
Financially cautious to the core, he nevertheless was a risk-taking visionary. In addition to acquiring a competitor many times his company's size (talk about chutzpah!) he also risked his entire business when he became only the seventh company in the country to acquire a sophisticated Rube Goldbergesque machine that revolutionized the car-shredding industry.
Although not verbose in expressing his emotions, my gestalt memory of the essence of my Dad was that he was dependably there for me, a solid, supportive constant in my world. I can only describe this as love.
My Dad's father and other male relatives died in their 50s. He had no expectations for living a long life. Each morning he awakened with a sense of appreciation for still being on this earth.
Our Dad. Devoted, respectful, brilliant, honest, strong, frugal but generous, cautious visionary, loving. I appreciate the world-view he bestowed on me. Not a bad role model for my kids either….not bad at all.