Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.
My dad died over a quarter of a century ago, and I’m thinking about him today and some of the lessons he taught me.
Dad taught me about equality. So many parents teach their children “the Golden Rule,” but for too many, it’s just words. With my folks, it wasn’t just words. My suburban neighborhood had become polarized when a neighbor sold her home to a black family. They would be the first black family on our area. As a young teen, I didn’t know about all the bitter fighting that was going on among neighbors – block meetings where neighbors threatened to all sell their homes and people muttering about taking other actions. It was only years later that I learned from others how my dad and mom had stood firm at those meetings that they would not sell our home and would welcome the family to the block. All I knew at the time was that they were the first ones to ring our new neighbors’ doorbell and invite them over for coffee. It may not seem like much to you in the 21st century, but at the time, it was a very big deal and made an indelible impression on me.
A few years later, Dad taught me that, sometimes, you need to be willing to die for what you believe in. I learned that particular lesson when to our shock, Dad tried to enlist in the Israeli army when Israel’s existence was threatened. Like many American Jews, he was not particularly religious, but this man, who never wanted to fire a gun and who had never been to Israel, was willing to put his life on the line to protect Israel. He was too old, of course, and was turned down, but his attempt to enlist taught me an important lesson. When my parents would subsequently express fear over my participation in civil unrest and demonstrations, I would remind them that sometimes you have to be willing to put your life on the line for what you believe in and that Dad had taught me that.
My dad taught me that if you’re in a car accident, the only thing that matters is whether the people are okay. He never yelled at me when I had an accident with his car, and modeled expressing concern for others. Years later, I would try to teach my kids that wonderful lesson when they started driving. And indeed, when she had her very first car accident, my daughter immediately went to the other car to determine if they needed help, and then called me. The first thing she said was, “I’ve been in a car accident. I’m okay and the others are okay.” In fact, she learned that lesson so well that when she was in another accident where a man started yelling at her, she calmly looked at him and said, “Cars can get fixed or replaced. I’m just glad everyone’s okay, and you should be, too.” Her grandfather would have been so proud. He would have also been proud when she joined with others to stand up to the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church members who came to our town to spread their bigotry.
My dad taught me about dependability. His family and friends could always count on him. I remember one particular day, though, when there had been a horrific blizzard. Most people were staying home. But Dad was out at 5 in the morning with me to dig out his car so he could go to work as a pharmacist. I asked him why he didn’t just stay home instead of risking dangerous roads, but he said that people would still need their medications and he had to be there for them. It was a great lesson in professional responsibility that I have never forgotten. He would have been so proud of his grandson who always manages to get through snow storms and horrific conditions to take care of the four-legged patients that count on him. My son also has his grandfather’s strong ethic and sense of professional responsibility.
On Dad’s grave, it says “A man of character. Remembered with love.”
He was, and he is.