We all have a hero. A person who makes such a huge impression they impact our lives forever. My father was that hero for me.
Sure, most little girls look up to their daddy. I was no different. He was a gentle giant, standing just over six feet tall and weighing three hundred pounds for most of his life. He looked a lot like Raymond Burr, famously known as Perry Mason. He too was a big man who carried his weight so well he just seemed larger than life. That was my Dad. Sadly he died just after my daughter was born so she never had the chance to meet her namesake.
He was a brilliant man who mastered chess, excelled at golf in a day and age where deals were made on the golf course, and was an outstanding bridge player. It wasn’t until recently that I began to really think about what all those attributes meant. Because all anyone ever saw was a charismatic, modest man who never flaunted his talents.
Not only was he all of those things, he also had incredible integrity, thoughtfulness and character. He loved to play these games in particular because they challenged him to think in ways that pushed him beyond his comfort zone, the point where he believed true insight and brilliance resided. It was there he was able to interact with other like-minded souls. People who treasured honest debate, intellectual differences and well thought out arguments. It wasn’t relevant whether you agreed or disagreed but whether you could fully express your opinion and then back it up with logic and reason.
That’s how he taught his children to learn and grow. Listening to all view points then deciding what made the most sense to them. He used to say it was like driving a car; staying in one lane for a cross country trip is boring. But traversing multiple roads in a variety of ways brings new perspectives that can expose new options. Plus, it keeps us sharp and on our toes. Monotony is dangerous. It breeds complacency and close minded thinking stifles ingenuity.
I used to watch him interact with those around him, treating everyone with respect and courtesy. Regardless of their position, education, heritage, wealth or lack thereof, he was always fascinated to hear other’s thoughts, backgrounds and life views. He was just at home meeting the Pope or Prime Minister of Israel as he was interacting with refugees stranded due to horrifying violence and strife, when he toured overseas as President of the Combined Jewish Appeal. Once introduced he remembered your name for life. Making it clear there was nothing less respectful than not caring enough to know who you’re talking to. And eye contact was integral to any interaction. Only through the eyes could you judge if their words were honest and sincere.
In those days, a promise was an irrevocable oath, breaking it brought shame and consequences. Our reputations are spotless when we come into this world, what happens after that is up to us.
Back then, deals were literally sealed with a handshake and were often the only documentation of a commitment. Not the reams of paperwork we require now, that are meaningless if someone doesn’t follow through. In my father’s era, backing out of a commitment was inconceivable- an action that would taint your reputation forever.
He cared, really cared. About you, your family, your interests, hopes… it mattered to him. Because people mattered to him. He taught me that everyone has a story worth hearing. It was that compassion and energy that drew people to him, his charisma and presence that filled a room and his honor and strength of convictions that encouraged them to stay.
I often think of him as I move through a changing world filled with texts, emails and digital communication. They all offer incredible advantages and opportunities, but they also take away the most important aspect of all- human contact and personal interaction. It’s part of our DNA, that need to connect. Unfortunately, it is too often ignored for more expedient means of communication.
Watching my father interact with anyone who crossed his path was an amazing sight to see. He understood that a connection, however brief, could change them both forever. Like the families he saw on the borders of war torn countries who were struggling to make a home and survive. Their resiliency, tenacity and dignity was an image he never forgot.
My father was far from perfect. He had antiquated views of a woman’s place in society when it came to his wife but he was able to push past those and encourage all aspirations in his daughters. Yet his unerring faithfulness, devotion and commitment to marriage and family was a constant example of what a marriage should be.
He battled obesity all his life until conquering it, of all places, on a cruise later in life.
He was a workaholic better suited to the stressors of his job than the daily needs of his wife and kids.
He had trouble expressing his emotions or lavishing praise.
As a child I often mistook his long work hours and stoicism as indifference, but I learned as an adult he just never felt comfortable with children, even his own. Finding their innocence and inability to converse unsettling. Even so, he was always ready with one of his signature bear hugs that made me feel safe and secure reminding me he’d always be there when needed.
Sadly he became afflicted with Alzheimer’s when I was in my early 20s, so I only had a few short years of adulthood to see his amazing wisdom and qualities. At that time all I saw was a magnificent man deteriorating in ways no human being deserves, not even your worst enemy.
Now in retrospect, with the healing balm of time and space I can truly see him for what he was- a loving, devoted father who, no matter his strengths or weaknesses, did his best to raise five children and teach them the tenets of life that helped make them who they are today.