Updated: Feb 22
Reflections on the complexities of family memories
Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday.
He was a complicated man.
A child of the great depression. For years growing up, he saw his father only at dinner time, seven days a week.
A veteran of WWII. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, but was too tall to fit in the cockpit.
A graduate of MIT on the GI bill.
A self-made business man.
He hated being indebted to others. We once got in a fight when I tried to pick up the tab at dinner.
He could charm people for small considerations without being phony.
He was fanatical about being on time: "You don't keep people waiting!"
He practiced chivalry, holding doors open for women, and always walked beside my mother on the outside of the sidewalk.
His mantra was, “RTD: Read the directions. RTI: Read the instructions. RTP: Read the problem”
He often said, “If it don’t fit, don’t force it.”
He told the same jokes and the same army stories over and over.
His favorite remedy was iodine, because "it feels so good when it stops burning."
He loved classic jazz, wore his vinyl records to the bone, and blasted Big Band music while he worked in his office.
He had no patience with people who weren’t as disciplined as he was or who didn’t understand things as quickly as he did, which was just about everybody.
He never understood his son, the creative, philosophical, wandering student of English literature and, later, ancient rabbinic teachings. But seeing where the world was heading and how his friends' kids had turned out, he said to me one day, "Could be you are living your life the right way."
He always wanted what was best for his family. He came to all my water polo games, because he father never came to his basketball games. (Ironically, I didn't want him there. I was awful at water polo and spent most of each game on the bench.)
He believed in honesty, integrity, and personal responsibility.
He retired too early, and never found a sense of purpose in the final years of his life.
He disappeared in a haze of dementia and Parkinson’s before he finally passed away.
He was a product of his time, of his upbringing, of his generation. He had no one to teach him otherwise.
All the things he didn't do that I wish he had, I did for my kids. All the things he did that I wish he hadn't, I also did.
We are all products of our environment.
Whether we transcend the limits of the past depends on how clearly we create a vision for the future.