For those readers of this column who’ve reached out to me personally these past few months as I took an early retirement from teaching in order to care full-time for my aging father, I can’t thank you enough for your words of encouragement and support — they truly have meant the world to me. Indeed, it has been a journey that I would not have traded for anything. It’s a journey that I’m saddened to say has recently come to an end.
As difficult as it might be right now to grieve through this tremendous loss, I’m trying my best to reflect upon the innumerable hours he and I spent together this past summer recounting stories, sharing meals, and bonding like we never had before, due to the distance that often separated us. That’s not to say that navigating the final months of his life was an easy task — not even close — but the positives from this unique life experience by far outnumbered the negatives, and it is those experiences that I will forever cherish.
During the eulogy, I shared some of these special moments with people in attendance, and not surprisingly, they brought both smiles and tears of joy to many in the crowd who’d come to pay their respects. It was obvious that they too, at one time or another, had shared a similar experience with him, and could very much relate to what I was saying.
My father, throughout his life, was someone who could be counted upon to assist you, using whatever means necessary. He was a man of his word, who possessed that unique ability to communicate and connect with folks of all ages, especially those much younger.
He listened first and then spoke, showing a genuine interest in what you had to share. When requested, one could always expect of him, non-judgmental advice on this topic or that. He often provided valuable insight and examples from his youth that you could then apply to your own situation.
He was, as many have expressed over these past weeks, a true mensch — a man of impeccable integrity. Or as one of his winter “snowbird” friends from Virginia shared with me a week or so before he passed: “If it weren’t for his New York accent, your father could easily be mistaken for a true ‘Southern Gentleman,’ simply by the way he conducts himself.”
It was quite the compliment for a kid from the Bronx.
Compassion for those less fortunate and for those underserved by society were hallmarks of his selfless nature. He was not driven by faith from an organized religion, but rather through his optimistic belief in the human spirit and our ability to care for one another. My mother embodied the same humanitarian ethos as he did, which meant that my brothers and I would be raised in a home where family, community, and equality in all its various forms was to be revered.
On more than one occasion this past summer, he’d expressed how fortunate he felt to be able to witness this aspect of his legacy and my mother’s — in the careers each of us would ultimately choose to pursue, in the people we would reach out to assist, and the circles of support we could judiciously come to rely upon.
I think the quality that I will miss most about my father was his unwavering commitment to justice. At quite an early age, I was exposed to many social inequities, not always through direct contact, but mostly via those individuals we knew who fought tirelessly against inequities.
My father took the time to explain not only who was being exploited, but more importantly, why they were. Frequent gatherings with like-minded families from our tiny village nestled alongside the Hudson River often led to hours of spirited conversations about the war in Vietnam, various planned marches on Washington, Watergate, and the fragility of storing nuclear power.
With several musicians amongst us, folk music would often provide the backdrop to many of the outings. Meeting notable activists such as Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Pete Seeger and Harry Chapin would leave such indelible impressions upon my young psyche that I would invariably feel compelled to pay it forward throughout my life, in any way that I could.
And ultimately, that’s how I wish to honor my father’s legacy from this point on — by continuing to champion and support the causes which mattered most to him. It’s the least I can do for my mentor, my hero, my dad.