Thanks For Giving, Dad
It’s fitting that the two occasions coincide, as this man was all about giving, and I never tire of thanking him.
My dad was a self-described street kid who grew up in the Bronx in the 1920’s and ’30’s. He had a mother who loved to play cards with her friends while nursing a drink, and a father from the old country who was a butcher and a bookie who wasn’t around much, especially the year they sent him away for taking those bets on the horses.
In short, my dad was on his own. He didn’t finish high school, but what he lacked in education he made up for in street smarts and sechel. By the time he was 35, he was a very successful businessman with countless employees at his store uptown.
He was a fiercely devoted husband and father who taught me everything – every sport, and everything important about loving and taking care of a woman.
He had some strange beliefs. For example, he believed that the quality of a man’s love (and lovemaking) at conception determined the kind of child that would emerge. (Strange perhaps, but, when I considered what he was trying to teach me, very useful.)
My dad was a self-made man who thought for himself. He loved to paint, fuck, smoke and drink. He even made us promise to put a box of Marlboros and a fifth of Johnny Walker in his coffin, a promise we kept.
He relied on drink too much, and had what was called a wooden leg. When I was growing up I thought he was just thickheaded; but he was actually, without displaying any of the tell tale signs, snockered.
The drink helped him through his darkest days, back in the fall and winter of ’64 – 65. Day after day he’d work for a few hours, then go visit my mother who was slowly wasting away to nothing at Sloan Kettering, and lie through his teeth to her — “You’ll be better soon; don’t worry” — and then come home to take care of us boys.
After she died, he drank, and painted, his way through his grief, and it worked.
My father was a complicated man who could never admit a fault or a weakness and yet, at those few occasions when I acknowledged him for being “a good man”, he’d practically break down. His dad (who I was named after) obviously never had.
He died at 76 down in Florida where he was living happily with his second wife. Part of why he died when he did was that his stubborn mistrust of doctors was so strong, that when his food would start getting stuck and not go all the way down, he’d rather induce vomiting than go get himself checked out. He made the food come up one time too many.
He left behind “two chips off the old block”, and little else. “The man who dies” he was fond of saying, “with 10 grand in the bank is a schmuck!”
And my dad was no schmuck.
Thinking of him today on his birthday, what can I thank him for? Let me try…
Thank you, dad, for saying throughout the last 20 years of your life, “If you have your health, you have everything!” It’s useful to me now, and puts everything into perspective.
Thank you, dad, for another saying of yours. Whenever you or someone you knew would lose on an investment, or spend too much on something, you’d always say, “It’s only money!” Quite a thing for a child of the depression to say. Quite a thing for anyone to say.
Thank you, dad, for once writing a huge, 50 page letter to me recalling all your memories of me growing up.
Thank you dad, for this: Once a friend of yours (we’ll call him Mr. Smith) complained to you at a dinner party that he was hurting, because he’d lent a man $10,000 (which was worth even more back then in the ‘70’s) and the man wasn’t paying him back. “Don’t worry about it. Tell me his name, and you’ll have your money within a week.” Late the next night, you pulled your car over by a phone booth, called the borrower up, and said, “Pay Mr. Smith back, or we gonna blow uppa you house!” Three days later, Mr. Smith got his money. Your balls, dad, were always an inspiration for my own.
Thank you, dad, for loving women and inspiring me to do the same. “When you wipe the pussy juice from your face,” you once wrote to me, “do it with love.”
Thanks for making me laugh at myself back when I took myself way too seriously…
My dad died back in 1994. On his tombstone is written, “He lived to give.”
Thanks for giving, dad!