My Favorite Father: A Tribute to My Brother Paul

Friday, June 15th, 2018

NOTE: My four siblings and I always called our father “Daddy.” Thus, this essay focuses on a father, my brother Paul. My father will always just be “Daddy” to me.

 

Knopf Family Photo (Left to right): My older brother Paul, me, my younger brother Harry, my younger sister Rosie, and my older sister Phyllis. Time: mid-to-late 1940s.

Growing up, we didn’t see much of our dad. As the owner of a gas station and repair shop, he worked from very early in the morning until well after dinnertime. He was what we now call a workaholic, laboring seven days each week, 52 weeks of the year, to support our mom and their five growing children, so we did not see much of him. Thus, I did not witness much in the way of “fathering,” other than my mom saying, “Wait ’til your Daddy comes home,” when we misbehaved. We knew he was there as a loving, stable presence in all our lives, but nevertheless, his work ethic left him very little time for hands-on parenting. That was more our mom’s role.

Not so my brother Paul, my older sibling by 20 months. We grew up together, dating each other’s friends. Fortunately for me, he married one of my girlfriends from a different high school. We lived in a separate school district from many of our friends and I met Carol at the local Jewish Y, where we both joined a girls’ club.

Full Family Photo from Paul’s Bar Mitzvah (1949) – Left to right (back row): Paul, our dad David, Phyllis, our mother Bea.  (L. to R. Fr0nt row): me, my sister Rosie and my brother Harry.
(I hated our taffeta dresses!)

 

Even though my first husband and I lived too far away from Paul and Carol to see them often, every time we did visit, I was subconsciously aware of how well-behaved and quiet spoken his three children were. Growing up, my siblings and I were a noisy bunch and there was also lots of yelling from my mom. Not so at Paul’s and Carol’s home. Maybe this is because Carol herself is soft-spoken, or because Paul seemed to have the patience of Job. Either way, it was a peaceful place to visit.

Whatever the reason, I admired how he and Carol were raising their kids. At his funeral last year, his daughter Rachel remarked how her father never raised his voice to his three children. Unfortunately, my kids cannot say the same about my parenting techniques!

And, unlike my dad, he was always home for dinner. Carol insisted on that. As a professor and later awarded a chair at Brown University in Providence, RI, he had his own lab where he did experiments with his graduate students studying for their PhDs.  Sometimes after dinner he would go back to his lab at Brown to check on his experiments, but family dinners came first. He loved his students and they loved him back. He was often voted the most popular “prof “of the year by his students. Paul made science enjoyable and understandable, spending several hours of preparation before each lecture, much like a minister does before a sermon. I went to one of his lectures six weeks into the semester and understood everything he taught. I was amazed at and impressed with his teaching skills.

His three children are all grown now, two with children of their own. Their love for their Dad was evident at his funeral, and my love for him grows each time I think about him. He was kind, considerate, patient and non-judgmental, all good traits for anyone, and especially for a father and grandfather.

Paul with his three grandsons

Paul earned his undergraduate degree and PhD. from M.I.T.; worked with Dr. Francis Crick, co-Nobel prizewinner for discovering DNA; and spent five years at the Salk Institute in California before becoming a professor at Brown. In addition, he had a keen sense of humor, loved puzzles (which was part of his passion for science, that is, putting together pieces of the puzzles of diseases, such as schistosomiasis,* his main research project); was an active advisor for The Progeria Research Foundation; enjoyed his family, especially his grandchildren; and was a stand-up guy, or as we say in Yiddish, a real “mensch.” (Note: My younger brother is also a great father, but he has lived too far away for me to witness his fathering traits up close.)

So for Father’s Day, my vote goes to my brother Paul, gone from the planet, but not from our minds and hearts. I miss him every day, but fortunately, he has passed on his knowledge, his patience, and his loving kindness for others onto his children and three male grandchildren, all of whom adored him. What more can one ask of any man or woman in this crazy world?

*https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/schistosomiasis/index.html

Apr 30, 2018 – Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms. Although the worms that cause schistosomiasis are not found in the United States, more than 200 million people are infected worldwide.

A Life Well Lived

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I have just returned from Rohode Island and the funeral of my older brother Paul. This was a difficult week, but Paul’s long siege with Parkinson’s disease and more recently, Lewy Body Dementia, made the quality of his life nearly unmanageable. His death was not unexpected, yet when death comes, it is still a shock.

The picture below is from his long and thought-provoking obituary in The Providence Journal. It is grainy, but still shows the irrepressible positive attitude my brother brought to his life and to those he touched. The poem below is the one I read at his funeral on Monday. His children and grandchildren also spoke of Paul in loving terms that touched us all. 

My Tribute to Paul, Gentle Giant

by middle sister, ellen sue

Paul was so much more than my older brother;
he was also my knight in shining armor & my friend.
Born only 20 months before me,
on Paul I could always depend.

As teens we hung out together:
building puzzles, double dating & just having fun.
And wonderfully, he married my best friend Carol.
Now she & I became sisters and friends, all in one!

Bali (his childhood nickname) was a terrific teacher,
attending college and grad school @ M.I.T.
And when I had trouble with Freshman Calc.
He taught me to understand it, from A to Z.

Paul’s research and students kept him busy & happy,
always studying, teaching & learning along the way.
He worked with Dr. Francis Crick in Eng. & at the Salk Inst. in CA.
before Brown University brought him to Providence to stay.

A wonderful dad, life with Carol was full, with 3 loving children
& 3 grandkids—Jakob, Andrew & Cameron—to keep him young.
We’ll miss his kind, brown eyes and his sweet & gentle ways,
for the music of his life has now been sung.

Let’s keep mem’ries of this “gentle giant” in our hearts,
and celebrate his life as the mourning period starts.

 
P.S. Before his death, we had planned a trip to California to visit family, some of whom we saw at the funeral. I will be away from Feb. 15th until the end of February. Because of this sad interruption, I may repost some recipes. I do have a couple of postings already in the works that I hope to post-date for when I am away. Your comments are always welcome, but I may not respond until I return. 

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