There’s an old joke: When I graduated from high school, I thought my parents were ignorant and out of touch. When I graduated from college, I was amazed at how much they had learned.
I write this because Sunday is Father’s Day. My father, Morris, died on June 18, 1983 at eighty. It was a Saturday. We buried him the next day. It was Fathers Day. But after all these years, my father is very much alive. Because as it happens, I am him.
Not that we weren’t different people. My father grew up the son of immigrants. He himself arrived at Ellis Island as two-and-a-half year-old Moishe Chaim Perelstein (an “e” got dropped while he was still a teenager) in February 1906. He didn’t like to talk about his childhood in Manhattan, but he did respond to one of my questions: he thought his parents—Sam (Chaim Shliomah) and Kayleh—were greenhorns.
I grew up in Queens the son of middle-class Americans. My mother, Blanche, was born in New York. During my childhood in the ‘50s, the United States enjoyed incredible economic growth. While my father had to work after high school and needed eleven years of night classes to get a B.S. from NYU’s School of Commerce (’32), I went away to Alfred University, a small private school in Western New York State. My father contentedly wrote checks for each semester’s bill.
I always appreciated how my father built a good life for us. But unlike him, I didn’t smoke cigars. Or take after-dinner naps. Or think like someone who had lived through the Depression that working for Sears would provide valued lifetime security. (After the war, my father took a risk and moved out of the back office to sell springs to bedding and furniture manufacturers; he did extremely well thanks to uncommon integrity and a model work ethic.)
Moreover, the only places my parents ever traveled while I was a kid were to the Catskills and Florida. They added San Antonio, San Francisco and Las Vegas after Carolyn and I married but never left the country. Admittedly, I’m not adventurous. But post-college, I served three years in the Army, settled in Texas and drove with Carolyn across the country from San Antonio to California to New York in 17 days. After which we traversed Western Europe for three months. Moved back to San Antonio. And took vacations in Mexico. In 1974, we moved to San Francisco. I went to work for myself. Different generations. Different opportunities. Different lives.
But here’s the thing. Once Carolyn and I were in Rego Park on one of our many visits. At the time, Seth was our only child. My father and I went for a walk. Outside the apartment building, we started to cross 63rd Drive. A car approached. My father grasped my arm. In the past, I would have taken offense. Now I smiled and offered no resistance. I was a father, too. And at the deepest level, I appreciated that while I was no child, I was and always would be his child.
Tonight, closest to the secular date of my father’s death, I’ll say Kaddish in his memory. On the evening of June 26, coinciding with the date of his death on the Jewish calendar (7 Tammuz), I’ll light a yarzheit candle. And I’ll remember that in so many ways, he and I were very different—just the same.
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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.