My father was modest and forthright in all things. Pop (I called him Pop) held himself to the highest standards, yet his virtues were the sturdy kind that emanate from the Golden Rule – decency, generosity, loyalty, humor. Granted, his jokes were mostly groaners too often mortifyingly off-color, but we smile because we all remember his twinkle. His good nature could warm a room.
Everything I love about art and culture and the world I love because of him. He was a master of ‘Show – Don’t tell’; he didn’t editorialize or promote; he just gave me a ticket. The list of startling, unforgettable experiences my father opened to me would take all afternoon to do justice to. There was this one time though, that changed forever the way I would see things. In the fall of 1963, I was thirteen and we were on a family excursion into deepest Pennsylvania and, for some reason, Pop and I went to the movies by ourselves. We saw Lawrence of Arabia. I had never seen anything like it and every movie, indeed every play or book or piece of music, I’ve encountered since has been colored by that epic afternoon. When Omar Sharif appears to the parched Lawrence, slowly coalescing in a desert shimmer, I surrendered absolutely. When something colors your life like that, you are truly beholden. Yes, Dad.
My father had two uncannily allied abilities, the knack to ask the right question and an intuitive sense when to keep his mouth shut. He knew when to suggest you needed a plan and when lighten up on the leash. The two often came together in acts of gallantry. Should some enterprise run aground he always claimed sole responsibility, and likewise he would sidestep the spotlight at the moment of triumph.
In third grade I was an indifferent, verging on hostile, Little Leaguer prone to wandering distractedly around the outfield. Pop had volunteered or maybe had been volunteered to coach us. We belonged to a truly benighted squad, the leftover kids stuck on a jerry-built team with no ‘corporate sponsorship’. Eventually, we were backed by the elementary school’s PTA and wore green ball caps with PTA in white letters above the brim. We were not inspired. Despite my anti-baseball behavior, Pop always pulled the I-was-a-terrible-coach card. “It was my fault, Bob, I couldn’t help it.”
For both of us, the only good thing about the experience was the ice cream after the game. So, once in a very blue moon, and only because we’d be talking about the restorative magic of ice cream, we might find ourselves back on that dusty playing field. It was be as if the sullen boy and the hollering coach had never existed.
I know there are as many perspectives to an event as there are participants. So, I hope you can hear this little voice from somewhere out in right field – I love you, Pop.