With Father’s Day coming up I find myself thinking about my own father who died 34 years ago. He is very much alive in me, still, as I suspect he is in my three daughters.
If Google had been around in his lifetime I doubt if his name would have registered on it at all. The mark he left on people was something almost beyond measure or even articulation. His achievement was not of the sort that could be enumerated by membership or citation. He won no medals, wrote nothing quotable nor did he achieve immortality through any self-promotion of his name.
Yet he remains an enduring model for me of how to be in this world; deliberate, quiet, almost imperturbable, enabling and attentive; all qualities toward which I can only aspire.
I never knew my father to raise his voice. His displeasure was conveyed through his eyes and a furrowed brow. His instinct was to resolve differences through empathetic listening. He seemed to know in his bones when to push me out the door and when to pull me back in or at least let me know the door was always open and he’d be there with a listening ear. It’s called trust. He trusted me so that, over time, I could trust myself.
He was not a big reader. In fact he read so slowly that my mother had to tutor him to get his high school diploma in order to be accepted into Columbia School of Pharmacy which was, at that time, a two year course. The only books we had in our house were those left behind by students in the private school across from his drugstore.
With all his equanimity and impulse toward reconciliation he held some radical convictions born out of compassion. His politics was an extension of this caring. I imagined him with his mortar and pestle crushing fascists into dust.
His own childhood provides no paradigm for his evolved parenting. His mother died in childbirth and his father was a hopelessly impoverished alcoholic. My father was handed over to an uncle who raised him also in much-reduced circumstances. My grandfather was so out-to-lunch he went on to re-marry and have four more children all of whom were brought up in an orphanage. In his inebriated haze he named two of his sons, Samuel. One of them was my father. My Dad, Sam, loved his brother, Sam.
My father was a man who lived his days unheralded but beloved, famous in the circle of family and friends for those moments that halted time. His presence, alone, could settle your own agitated life and you knew the world was safe enough to push on through.