Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Dad

Happy Birthday, Dad.  You would have been 89.  You left us way too soon at age 61.

Husband (married 42 years till death did him part), Warrior (two island campaigns in the Pacific Theater with the First Marine Division), Athlete (selected captain of his high school team, split end on his college team), Scholar (finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship, Yale Law School), Father (six children), Lawyer (Wall Street law firm partner), Liberal (humanist, he had a heart), Activist (he went to the south twice in the mid-60s to help enroll voters), Leader (President of the New York County Lawyers Association, President of the Carleton College Alumni Board), Provider (he sent six kids through college), and so much more.

He taught me a guiding principle in my life, even beyond trying to be like him, confident, unafraid, action-oriented, smart.  He believed in Voltaire's refrain, The Best Is The Enemy Of The Good, and so do I now.

His lawyer associates were in awe of him.  The other partners always talked about his successful insistence that the firm accept less money than they had billed for in the bankruptcy settlement of a major client, W.T. Grant, because it was in the best interests of the client.  Imagine that!  The firm litigator, several associates once rushed into his office during the lunch hour because one of their lunch party had responded to some construction workers' catcalls and gotten himself beat up while the rest of the party of young educated men stood by horror struck, taking names and threatening legal action.  They wanted my dad to file a civil law suit against the construction company.  "Did you go help your friend while he was getting pummeled?" he asked.  "Well, no."  My father picked up the newspaper on his desk, opened it and said to the band of young men, "Good day, gentlemen."  He left the law when he thought it had changed from a profession into a business.

When I was in high school, my best friend came over to our house and rang the bell.  When I opened the door, he was on our porch next to two young toughs, one with a sawed-off broom handle, with two more toughs lurking on the sidewalk, who had been tailing my friend and harassing him.  I ordered the two young men off my porch, was invited to "make them" which I did by shoving the one with the stick towards the sidewalk and the fight was on!  Four on two, with one armed (with a wicked stick).  It wasn't going particularly well for the good guys, especially since after absorbing a few wild swings from the stick I got inside on the tough wielding it and punched him--and broke my hand!  My friend was doing steadfast work as he was wrassling with the other three.  Fortunately my father felt a draft and came to close the door.  You never saw a desperate situation change so rapidly, or such a transformation in a peaceful man.  There was a sound of tearing cloth as my father grabbed the collar of the ringleader with one hand while his other hand was clenched menacingly into a fist and kept low but prominent.  He frogwalked the eighteen-year old off the porch and the two warring groups separated and sort of spilled after those two as the one was marched up the street by the other who was issuing low and commanding questions like, What is your name, What are you doing here etc., that were getting answered in hysterical yelps.  The four toughs were last seen hurriedly leaving the neighborhood, never to be seen again, Lew was fine except for some bruises where he had been kicked (in the back of the neck--nice fellows!), I had the broken bone in my hand set at the ER and my father went back to his football game on TV.

What he took away from the Marines is their truism:  Never complain, never explain.  I try to adhere to that (it's hard).

After he died, I read some consolation letters sent to my mother.  One was from a WW2 buddy who'd seen the elephant alongside my Dad.  He wrote, as best as I remember, Jim was always an uplifting spirit on Peleliu.  Even in the most desperate moments he was always calm, encouraging and steadfast.

He taught me by example how to be a man.  Whenever I'm in a situation I don't know how to handle, I always think, What would dad have done?  Love you always, Dad!

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