Father’s Day

My father, probably in the mid to late 1970s. I think EVERYONE should have a black and white portrait taken by Bachrach. It’s definitely posed–but it definitely looks like him!

I promise not to meditate on every single holiday we come across. I’m sure my readers are busy feting fathers today and may not have time to read or comment! But … after church today–in which we celebrated fathers past, present, and future; biological and spiritual–our minister Cara said to me, “You had a pretty special father yourself, didn’t you?” And I had to agree that I did.

My father Abe came from a family that didn’t speak English at home when he was small; he, his parents, and his brother and sister came to the United States from Poland when he was 22 months old.

Abe grew up feeling like an outsider in American culture. He wasn’t a bitter outsider, however; he was a curious outsider. That curiosity garnered him many friends and nurtured his greatest professional strength: his ability to make often unexpected connections between disparate people and ideas.

His family was matriarchal, headed first by his maternal grandmother and upon her death by his mother. So he grew up expecting women to be smart and to run things, an expectation that made him a joy to deal with both at home and in the workplace.

He was fun and funny and gentle and told whimsical stories that delighted adults and children alike. I wish I could say I have figured out how to emulate his charm. It combined humor (which I have) and an ability to talk off the cuff (which heaven knows I have) with something I simply can’t definite or identify or replicate.

Thinking about him also leads me to recall other father figures in my life. There are fewer of these than there were mother figures to conjure up on Mother’s Day; like my father, I grew up in a matriarchy. I was lucky enough to have several wonderful men in my life when I was young, however.

I love to spend time with my mother’s brother Bruce, who just celebrated his 91st birthday with great fanfare. Uncle Bruce loves to play the patriarch, a tendency that occasionally gave me inappropriate giggles when I was younger. Nevertheless, he is a patriarch with an enormous heart. When my mother and I met him for lunch almost exactly a year ago I noticed that she couldn’t help smiling when she looked at him. I know exactly how she felt.

The Siblings enjoying each other’s company in July 2011

Today I also remember my friend Buddy, who made New York City even more exciting and who honored me by treating me like a second daughter both in the city and in the country. Buddy embodied so much joy and spirit that if my family was stuck entertaining one of my father’s more staid colleagues we’d invite him and his wife Bobbie over as well. With Buddy sitting at the table and at the piano, a boring dinner party was transformed into a festive night to remember.

I think about my neighbor Harrison, who never had any children of his own but who sheltered, informed, and praised all his nieces and nephews (including honorary nieces and nephews like my brother and me). Harry was the only person I have ever known who could whumsle (simultaneous whistling and humming—in harmony!). It was an honor to hear him launch into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” or “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” on special occasions.

And I smile whenever I think of my Uncle Jack, another honorary uncle. He and my mother decided when they were in their 20s that they must have been siblings separated at a very young age since they were both loud and funny and smart (and both WASPs, unlike their spouses).

Most of all, I think about my grandfathers. My paternal grandfather was a sweet but mysterious figure who unlike my father felt overwhelmed by the matriarchy in which they lived; I can only recall him speaking more than a word or two at Passover, when he read from the Haggadah. Despite his silence we knew he loved us deeply.

My mother’s father was a much louder presence in my life. He was quite elderly by the time I came along and had little patience for small children. He often made the tiny Tinky furious by silencing her with a glance or a few choice words. Nevertheless, he was a warm man at heart.

One day at my grandmother’s house in Vermont the impatience and the warmth intersected.

Some imagined infraction on the part of my brother David, my cousin Tommy, and me launched our grandfather into a tirade. We youngsters retreated from the house into the yard, smoldering with resentment.

We decided that the time had come to assassinate the old man. The boys formulated a plan by which I was to distract Grandpa and lure him to an open area in which they could shoot him with their bow-and-arrow set.

(In retrospect I think I should probably have nixed this plan since as the distracter I was probably in danger from the bows and arrows as well, but my peril wasn’t obvious to me then. In retrospect I also realize that it’s pretty difficult to kill someone with rubber-tipped arrows. But I was only five at the time.)

Before we could put our plan into place, our grandfather called us into the house, gave us big hugs, and reinstated himself in our good graces. We decided to let him live. His rages (and ours) were happily short lived.

This week I once again rejoiced that we spared him. By chance I came across the letter he wrote my mother, his eldest child, on her 21st birthday in 1939. Here is a bit of the advice he shared with his “Punkins”:

Sir Isaac Newton was a dreamer. If he hadn’t been the falling apple wouldn’t have inspired him to think. The trick is to dream and be practical too. The great lawyers, doctors, musicians, teachers, philosophers, for the most part have been great because of their ability to translate their dreams to practical application.

I hope that like my mother I can take these words to heart and combine a romantic spirit with a core of common sense. I’m grateful for the wisdom of my grandfather, my father, and all the nurturing men in my life.

If you have a chance, please remember someone special in the comments below. Happy Father’s Day!

My Grandparents in the early 1960s. We were always happy to see my grandfather smile!

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4 comments on “Father’s Day

  1. Cara Hochhalter says:

    What a wonderful picture of your father and reflections on the special men in your life! Thank you.
    My father was a rather eccentric art professor but would look over his half-rimmed reading glasses with a bemused smile, if I wanted to tell him something in between his smoking a cigarette and reading ART & ARCHITECTURE…What I loved was that upon occasion, he would ask my opinion of one of his on-going works of art. My Dad, Vernon Bobbitt, was chair of the art department at Albion College in Michigan, for 30 years. Thanks for asking!

  2. Nancy Bischoff says:

    Pop, Daddy, Papa — they were all the names my father answered to. (He used to joke that “heydaddy” was all one word!) He, my mother, and I were all only children so we were very close, and I really think, looking back, that my parents and grandparents were made for their roles in life. They were great. They were all around in my life until I was 12 and my father’s father died, so I have lots of memories of them all, but today we are remembering Pop. He was an accountant and auditor for Met Life, and was the soul of patience when he had to tutor his dim daughter in arithmetic –which I hated beyond measure. In fact, he was always there for me in whatever subject I might need help in, and never acted as though it was any trouble at all. We took trips into the city for sightseeing and we often Chrismas-shopped together. He died of a heart attack at age 58 while on a trip to Canada with my mother, so I lost him at age 26. Thinking of you today, Pop!

  3. Buckey Grimm says:

    Great work Tinky, My Fathers is a retired Deputy Police Chief in Alexandria, VA. As a child one of my fondest memories is that for several years he would go at night and wait for the drive in window of the Burke and HErbert Bank to close and provide security for the tellers leaving at night. We would sit in the car at night and liisten to I believe it was WRC Radio, which had the Joy Boys on at Night (Ed Walker and Willard Scott). It was great time. My Grandfather was also a policeman, he was a Motorcycle cop and later he worked in traffic safety. He got members of he police department to put money together and founded a camp for youth in Alexandria to have a place to go during the summer. It was named Camp Charles Herbert Grimm named after one of his sons who was killed at Iwo Jima during WWII. He was just as my father is, a great man.

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Cara–I love the sound of that bemused smile. And I know he valued your opinion, as do I.

      Nancy–That “heydaddy” says a lot about your relationship. I’m so sorry your patient father died so young. I’m glad you have good memories.

      Buckey–They both sound great (I adore Burke and Herbert, by the way; they have dog biscuits for Truffle in the lobby!). How wonderful that your grandfather organized the camp–and what a lovely tribute it was to your uncle. Thanks!

      By the way, my brother says he has NO recollection of our plot to kill our grandfather. Very mysterious……

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