My dad was not larger than life. He was a common man with uncommon potential never realized or even desired. He was not an overly ambitious man, and I’ll always be haunted as to whether that was a good thing or not. But he was the most unassuming person I knew. He never put on airs, he never tried to impress, he just was who he was. And he assumed that others were as well, which, of course, wasn’t always the case.
I thought I’d share some biography, and I’ll try not to get too deep in the woods.
To begin, Dad was smart. He grew up in Baltimore and skipped two grades in Junior High and High School, entering City College at 16. Which made his social life a bit challenging. His graduation yearbook:
After graduation he found work in a furniture store called Grand Rapids in downtown Baltimore as both its accountant and business manager.
During World War II, he was inducted into the Army. Because he was good with numbers, he spent his war years behind a desk while serving in Hawaii. He’s told his glider story a few times, and hoping I could someday do it justice, I recorded him retell it in May 2018:
“While training in the U.S., I was in Fort Benning in Georgia, which was a main paratrooper base. There was training for gliders that would carry the paratroopers. And a jeep would back into the front of the glider, its purpose to establish communication over enemy lines after the paratroopers had dropped and the glider had safely landed.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. government military engineers hadn’t thought it through that well. Because when a glider is connected to its mother plane, it has enough power to stay like this [hand in horizontal position]. But when the glider plane is now detached from the engine plane, and over enemy lines, the paratroopers are discharged. Then the glider, with the jeep in the front, is doing this [hand slowly drifting down, still in horizontal position] and losing speed. And then it gets a little top-heavy [hand now curves downward] And it’s very hard to drive a jeep off a plane that lands like this [hand in vertical position, heading downward toward table]. So there was a little thing that had to be worked out.”
My dad had met my mom sometime before he had been enlisted, and while in training, during leave in April 1943, he came back to Baltimore to get married. They wed in her family’s home, which was connected to her dad’s grocery store. They honeymooned in New York City. Then he went back to Fort Benning for more training.
Dad was then transferred out to Indianapolis, then near San Francisco, headed for Hawaii by ship. It took ﬁve days, and Dad got seasick, because the troop ship was overcrowded in the seven-high bunk cabins. So he took his blanket and slept on deck. For ﬁve days.
After arriving in Hawaii, he was eventually shipped to Okinawa in August 1945, just before V-J Day. His war activities mostly involved paperwork, Bridge, Chess, and Tennis; he was not in the center of the hostilities.
After the war ended, he was shipped back to San Francisco and then finally back home to Baltimore, where he returned to work at Grand Rapids.
At the same time, he also set up his own accounting business at home, ﬁrst in an area just outside the city boundary, from 1953 until 1959, and then in a newly-built place within the city’s borders for the next eleven-plus years.
He was always working, during the day at Grand Rapids, then at night, either visiting clients or when they would come to our place in his home office. Every month my sister and I would help sort his clients’ checks on the living room ﬂoor. That was our family entertainment.
My mom and dad loved each other, though it was never all that physically apparent. To my pre-teen and teenage eyes, they simply got along well. Hey, it was Mom and Dad; what else did I need to know? Still, it was unthinkable that theirs was anything but a stable marriage. One memory that’s stayed with me: On Saturdays Mom would drive me downtown for my weekly piano lesson while she visited her folks at the grocery store they still owned, buying food for the next week. And after spending the rest of the day walking around the city, pretty much killing time, I’d make it to Grand Rapids in time for Dad to drive me home. There was a fellow employee who asked him to drive her home as well. I sensed she had eyes for him. But when we got in the car, he had her sit in the back while I sat in front. Just so there’d be no misunderstanding and that she was wasting her time with him. That’s how solid my parents’ marriage was.
They got along great, but there were times when they’d get into these ridiculous arguments, talking past each other. I remember one night I listened to him arguing about one matter, and my mom arguing about another, neither of them realizing that they were both arguing about different things, and neither understanding why the other couldn’t see his/her point. Finally, I piped in and tried to explain just that: That Dad was talking about A, and Mom was talking about B. I don’t quite remember what happened next. Maybe I returned to my room to record songs from my radio. Who knows.
In early 1971, Mom and Dad had had enough of the Baltimore winters and decided to move to Miami. It wasn’t much of an immediate disruption for my sister and me; she had married the previous fall and had herself moved to Miami, and I was in the middle of my college years. Still, it was a major change.
Dad had some initial difﬁculty setting up his accounting business, but he got lucky with one particularly wealthy client, and he soon thereafter found solid footing.
In late 1987, my mom found herself afﬂicted with cancer, and she spent the next year dealing with the radiation and chemo treatments, and they seemed to work; she was in remission. But then the cancer returned in the ﬁrst half of 1990, and she passed away that late July.
Dad was lost without her. I felt we grew closer because of it.
A year later a friend introduced him to Joan; she’s since said that it was the City College ring that opened her heart to him. That he’d still be wearing it, decades after graduating, moved her. I’m eternally grateful that Joan saved my dad’s sanity and made him whole again.
Joan passed away in April 2020, and Dad spent his remaining years at home, successfully avoiding covid, reading the daily newspapers and working on any crossword puzzle he could get his hands on.
But in mid-March 2022 his 100+-year-old heart had finally caught up with him, and two weeks later he finally found his own peace.
I want to ﬁnish this by mentioning the puns. My dad loved puns. He made plenty of them, and nearly all were very bad, obvious, and, well, frankly, pathetic. But he never gave up, and there was one that I thought struck gold – it was a combination of brilliant and cringe-worthy, and I’ll never forget it. It was the mid-‘80s; he came up with the name of a Chinese health-food restaurant: He called it “All Wok and Yoplait.”
That was my dad.