My Papa was a complicated man, creative, musical, artistic and intelligent. He was a great dancer, loved playing games of all kinds, was fiercely dedicated to his Judaism, a combination of politically progressive Reform Judaism and mystical Judaism - a very rare combination at that time.
His physical as well as mental health was always quite fragile. He had terrible allergies, a dodgy stomach and many afflictions of the skin, such as boils. I think he must have been in physical pain a lot of the time. Later in his life he was subsumed by mental illness which, I've realized recently, accounts for the fact that I often feel a familial attachment to the mentally ill.
Before he went off the deep end when I was in high school, he had his good years and not so good years. At his best he was really spectacular. He was an incredible raconteur who, once he got going, enthralled everyone around him. To this day I have never seen anyone lead a Passover Seder with the skill, intense and whole hearted passion he put into it. I also very fondly remember Shabbat dinners. When we were kids he actually put on a suit before coming to the dinner table on Shabbat. (We dressed up, too. It was very cool.) My sister Deborah can still recite from memory the words he used to bless the Sabbath. Beautiful, stirring, inspiring words.
He loved sports and was a bowling coach. Such a funny thing to think of now! He loved all the arts. He taught us to listen to music by pointing out specific instruments, specific melodies. Sometimes he would put some music on the hi fi and ask us how the music made us feel or what it made us think about.
I tried to avoid him when he was not as his best because he could be one of the cruelest people you can imagine. His idea of appropriate fatherly guidance was to either humiliate or insult us - or both. Sometimes he flew into a rage over something or over nothing. It was quite frightening. Even as a kid I saw the imbalances. I hated the way he treated my sisters and my mother. I flew under the radar as often as possible, hence was infrequently the recipient of his rages. I guess that's good. For all intents and purposes I wrote him off when I was still in grade school. I remember thinking, Papa is nuts; I'm not going to listen to him. When he died I felt it physically but did not grieve. I don't think I ever shed even one tear. When he died, it was a relief. Is that a terrible thing to say?
Among the gifts I've received through Facebook are the memories of my father recounted by the people I grew up with. One of my friends said my father was the first person to ever treat him like an adult. Papa challenged my friend's beliefs in ways that left a lasting impression - a good one, should say. "Your father taught me to think," my friend said.
Just the other day another old neighbor was remarking on Facebook that Papa constantly corrected her grammar for which she is still appreciative. Really? I hated it when he corrected mine!
The name of this post refers to one of his many careers, in advertising during the 1960s. He was no Don Draper - nope - but he appreciated the creativity in that field at that moment in time and worked as an art director for a Kansas City agency. I remember the magazine Advertising Age arriving in the mail.
First Edie, now Papa. Coming up on the day I receive my Shalom tattoo, and the next day when I walk through the Holocaust Museum exhibit, I am calling in my ancestors - apparently.
Papa you were such a piece of work while alive! My goodness no wonder you died so young. All that internal/external drama must have been exhausting. Eating terrible food, smoking all those Chesterfield Kings, could not have helped either.
It's all water under the bridge now, of course. I love and honor my father. In my heart of hearts, all is forgiven.
What is remembered, lives. Shalom.
What is remembered, lives. Shalom.