I remember my little legs were churning as fast as they could to keep up with my father. He was so tall and long-legged and seemed totally unaware of my scampering beside him, like a puppy trying to keep up with her master. I didn’t even have enough breath to say, “Daddy, please slow down.”
I spent so little time with my father as a child that I welcomed any opportunity to be with him, even if it meant walking four miles to synagogue on Rosh Hoshanah. Daddy worked seven days a week, 362 days each year, taking off only three high holy days of the Jewish New Year. He didn’t even close his gas station/garage for Passover. Instead, he just joined us for the Seder in the evening. I think he invented the word “workaholic.”
I spent years trying to figure out why my father worked so hard. One reason, for sure, was that my mother never grasped the word “budget.” She always spent more than my father earned and when money was owed, she would say, “It will come,” and somehow it did, if not from my father, then from some other mysterious source.
But back to Daddy…Another reason my father spent so much time at the garage was that he could socialize with his cronies/ customers; many became his regular “crowd.” My parents didn’t have a social life, because my father worked too many hours. So this was his way of socializing. Don’t misunderstand me; my father was very congenial, but he was uncomfortable in a suit and tie or in any formal situation.
Thirdly, my father was extremely conscientious. Having brought five children into the world, he felt financially responsible for us. My older sister Phyllis married in 1953 and my father and mother gave her a big wedding at the cost of $5,000, a huge amount then. The next fall my older brother Paul started MIT for eight years. One year later, I started Douglass College (part of Rutgers University) for four years. The year I graduated and began teaching, my kid brother Harry started Harvard for eight years. (Two doctor sons, my mother could brag.) The following fall, my younger sister Rosie started Temple University for four years. Then of course, were the weddings….but that’s another story.
All this on the earnings of an auto mechanic? I still don’t know how he did it, even with our college loans and scholarships. Thankfully, by the time my youngest sister graduated from college, Daddy decided he didn’t have to work as hard, so he cut back to only six days per week and 9 or 10 hours per day.
Did my father think all his hard work worth it? Maybe. I still haven’t figured that out. I just know there is an empty space in my heart that never fills up, because I never felt I really had a daddy, just the shadow of a man I adored and wanted to please.
One of my wishes for Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day) is that every parent realizes that the time spent with family is as important as the money earned for the family. The yin/yang of Life is about work and play, not work or play. My father was a wonderful human being, full of love and compassion that was rarely seen. How much he missed by not spending more time with those who loved him, and how much those who loved him missed the full scope of his being.