Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mad Man



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.

9 comments:

Reya Mellicker said...

My friend Linda with whom I was best friends in high school, said this after reading today's post:

"I know we both tried to fly under his radar when we'd come home after a date. I remember him sort of muttering at us--he probably thought we were silly, giddy girls (and who wasn't at that age?). But those who remember his intelligence of the arts are spot on--remember the revolving art displays you had on your walls? That was the first "real" art I was ever exposed to that wasn't in a museum, and he liked to educate us about it. And the books? I remember a whole wall of books in your living room--art, philosophy, history books--is that right or am I imagining its scope? I knew full well that he could pull any volume off that shelf and teach us Something Very Important. He shuffled--and wore the thick, black glasses, a white undershirt and dark, baggy pants and black dress shoes without socks; occasionally, the untucked bowling shirt would cover the undershirt. That's the image of him on the hard drive in my head. That and a slightly dyspeptic look on his face, which fits with his dodgy health. I knew we were in for a conversation with some edge with Papa--and I liked that."

Reya Mellicker said...

She did not imagine the wall of books.

Jinksy said...

What is remembered, lives.

We could all do with realising that, I think. ♥

Reya Mellicker said...

One of my favorite sayings!

Pam said...

Good that you've come to a place of forgivness. I feel we Aquarians can be quite ruthless with our dismissiveness at times - as a little girl I too wrote my father and his parenting techniques off completely, but under the "aggressive with no brain" category.
"Under the radar" is a good way to describe dealing with it.
Funny how time softens and offers up forgiveness. He is still alive and vulnerable so now I tend to overcompensate for earlier dealings.It is hard to see his demise.
Our Dads are only human after all, however I do think that father/daughter relationship should be a special one - one I envied in others.
I enjoyed your post Reya. Bring on that tattoo!!!!

Reya Mellicker said...

Pam yes we can cut off from what doesn't work. I don't think of it as a bad quality. It always feels like a relief to me.

I'm sure it must be complicated, dealing with your father. Mine died long, long ago.

mockingbirdsatmidnight.com said...

It always surprises me how differently people see others' parents. Does the perception of outsiders reflect the true person, or does the perception of the child reflect the true person? Or is it somewhere in between?

I think I read that the Buddha (or someone prone to speaking in sage aphorisms) said, your image of your mother is not your mother. That made me really take a hard look at both my parents, and my relationship with them. And we are better friends for it.

Reya Mellicker said...

It is, and isn't, your mother. My world is my perceptions. To me what's important is to remember that, also to remember that perceptions change.

I always like to say that while on the therapeutic couch for ten years, I re-wrote my personal history. Indeed I did!

ellen abbott said...

this is a wonderful post Reya. I had reached forgiveness for my father before he died. He treated me terribly for many years. I remember the last time I saw him about a week before he dropped dead of a massive stroke. When they had come to Houston (from Galveston, about an hour away) to visit, something they rarely did, and were ready to leave I hugged my father and spontaneously told him I loved him. It surprised me because I did not have a conscious intent to do that. It was the last time I spoke to him or saw him alive.

My mother, now, is a whole different story. All these years after her death, I don't think I have forgiveness for her.