MY FATHER, FRED

My father was a spit polished, sharp as a tack man. Always! He was Victorian era polite and honorable, but also willing to be silly and fun. He believed that Logic and Science could save us, but was also a truly great romantic. He taught me to play poker and waltz and Marquis of Queensbury Rules. He was a great man, imo. I never felt unloved by him, even in my seriously alienated teen period when it was just annoying rather than comforting.
He was an original purveyor of Dad Jokes, the guy who taught himself to play Stride piano, and who would do Cossack dances to the Radetsky March. He was the outgoing opposite of my introverted mother, and she was often amused by his antics, especially with us. I would catch her smiling, just slightly, her nearly black eyes shining with love as he frolicked with us: playing board or made up games, teaching us about dinosaurs, or watching monster movies together on the sofa. They quarreled often and as a child, that was more understandable to me than that glint in her eyes. It took becoming an adult to begin to understand the fierce love that they shared for more than fifty years, until her death. His devotion to her throughout the horrors of cancer completely altered my understanding of love in action and what devotion means and even now, brings moisture to my abnormally dry eyes, both emotionally and physically.

My father was the epitome of devotion when it came to his family. Working the night shift at Standard Oil in Bayonne meant years of busing and walking for miles when the buses didn’t run. He learned to drive and bought a car when I was small, and he drove me everywhere I needed to go, whenever possible, picking me up in Brooklyn every week after I married, so I could shop in Jersey where there were no taxes on food and clothing, and spend time with the family. This was not his dream for me, but he never expressed his disappointment in any way and did everything he could to lend support and encouragement to me, patiently teaching my first husband about basic household repairs and indirectly advising patience and kindness as the basis of enduring love.

My parents had five kids as well as the care of his mother and an elderly cousin, but Pop always made room for kin who needed him, he and my mom working on budgets late into the night, finding ways to send funds to family who might be in crisis, taking in neighborhood kids whose families were temporarily unable to care for them. I found out after his death that the beloved elder who lived with us had come north after Emancipation but had been re-enslaved by an evil employer. My father and his brothers organized and literally broke her out of the locked room where she was kept when not working. The only relative who owned his house at the time, there was no question as to where she would go. She lived with us comfortably, for the rest of her life, a sweet and kindly foil to her younger contemporary, my cantankerous grandmother.

His lifelong dream was to have land and create a family compound- each with their own home, elders cared for by all, kids, animals, gardens all cared for, all healthy and thriving.

Daddy promoted personal discipline and was almost military in his adherence to physical and moral discipline. A boxer in his youth, he’d aspired to the Golden Gloves, but family responsibilities intervened. He continued to skip rope and exercise every day until his late eighties. He was a good Christian who rarely attended church, but lived New Testament values and The Golden Rule.

I could go on for pages about his life and work, but this is not the place for that. I just wanted to pay homage on what would have been his lucky 108th birthday- one that he fully expected to see, as dying was not in his meticulous plans. How many times did he tell me that he’d never die, and in some sense he was right: he lives in my mirror and my son’s family devotion. Corny jokes and music evoke his spirit on a regular basis, as does every neat and dapper old guy I see. Every time my little granddaughter writes a play, belts out a song, or expresses her love of math- my father is there and I know the truth of his saying that the good that we create is matter and never ends, it only changes form. ❤️

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