Showing posts with label father. Show all posts
Showing posts with label father. Show all posts

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Two-Sided Coin

Tomorrow is Fathers' Day. No more do I go in search of cards that speak to some signature trait of my dad. It was never easy to find the right card. My father didn't play golf or fish or watch sports. All the cards that were designed for the prototype dad didn't seem relevant to our world. We weren't gushy so nothing about the best dad in the world and truth be told our relationship had its challenges. I certainly wasn't a Daddy's girl so that genre also fell by the wayside. I used to wonder what a typical father-daughter relationship was like and how did mine fall so far outside the sphere judging by the range of cards. If I was fortunate, I found one with some humor that spoke to some childhood experience.

It is now the third year since my father's death. Now Fathers' Day is a celebration for my husband. A different holiday all together. My son-in-law texts me to check his size. We gather at his daughter's for a combination Father's Day/ birthday party for our granddaughter. My husband has a strong relationship with his daughters and raised them post-divorce. I remember when his oldest daughter warned me early in our relationship to be good to her dad because he was a pretty special guy. I was touched to see the strength of their relationship.

My dad was not the stereotypic father. He was a complicated man, often difficult, wrapped up in his world, driven, self-absorbed, quick-tempered and impatient. He was also a doer, clever at making things happen, creative, a visionary and a principled man. He believed in speaking up, not standing passively by. He was fluent in speech and the written word. An excellent problem solver who delighted in being able to help others. Great to have in a crisis, not so easy in the everyday. He wasn't an easy man to grow up around, but he made an indelible mark, not only on me, but on many who were close to me. My ex-husband revered him. Somehow my father understood what he needed and encouraged him when he most needed it. Ditto for my female friends who he encouraged and helped as they sought careers in traditionally male professions.

I have come to realize how much of him is in me and how much he shaped each of his children, good, bad and otherwise. He liked to be in control and didn't like his universe disturbed. He used to say, "in my house you live by my rules". So I moved out at seventeen and having control of my life has been a central principle since. When I talk to my younger sister I realize she too possesses that need for control. I love her dearly, but give us too much time together and we clash over whose in control. We both responded to my father's need for control and our childhood lack of it. Truth be told, having control of your life is not a bad thing. We sought out education, planned our careers and planned financially; all because those actions gave us control over our lives.

Somewhere along the way, I accepted my father for who he was, a mixed bag with good and bad traits that were often interrelated, flip sides of the same coin. He lightened up later in life. As a grandfather he was able to express his love and adored his two granddaughters. Later in life as memory faltered he reached out to his children with a new fondness that often touched me.

As I've gone through my dad's papers I've had many shocks of recognition. We share many qualities. I have a better understanding of the pride he took in many of my accomplishments for I now know he recognized himself in me as well. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day: His Spirit Lives On

Last year was the first Father’s Day without my dad who passed away early in 2012.  I thought about him frequently that Father’s Day, conscious of his absence.  All the Father’s Day marketing felt like a disturbance in my universe.

This year I find myself reflecting on memories of my dad.  I can still picture my dad pretty clearly.  I can hear his voice with a bit of gravel in it. “Don’t let the bastards get you down,” he says.  I think about his drive even long after his body had ceased to support it.  My mother and I have chuckled over the idea that perhaps he inhabits the spirit of her cat, her new and beloved companion.  Her cat sleeps on Dad’s side of the bed, uses his bathroom, greets my mother each morning and brings her the comfort of a companion far less demanding than my dad ever was.

I have come to appreciate over this past year how much of my father’s spirit inhabits me.  To my mother’s frequent refrain of “You’re your father’s daughter” I reply, “I hope I just got the good stuff”.  We are all a mixed bag and the qualities that help us achieve in the world are often the very qualities that can make us difficult to live with.   No doubt I got both sides of the coin with a bit of my mother hopefully to soften the edges just as she did in our family life.

I think of my father when I write and words flow, a gift he possessed.  And I especially think of him when I write a letter to a company to protest their handling of a matter.  My father was not one to suffer in silence and with a gift for words, he could voice his displeasure with some eloquence and often humor.  I chuckled at letters I discovered on his old computer after his death, again recognizing much of myself within them.  

I think of my father when I perform an exacting task.  He kept meticulous inventories of stamps in his tiny script.  As a child I watched him pour over his stamp collection with a focus that I now recognize in myself when I research family history.  With his inventories of books, videos and stamps filling his computers I conclude that number counting too is genetic.  Perhaps it is a way to exert some measure of control over the world.  If so, I possess that trait in common with my father.

And I think of my father when I look around my office, with its layer of clutter (this is the not so good stuff).  It is the clinging to information, inquiring minds want to know, I might need it someday gene.  The New York Times articles that he had torn out because the subject interested him, also interested me as I waded through his office after his death.  We shared an interest and curiosity in many things.

So on this second Father’s Day without my Dad, I realize that his spirit does indeed live on.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day Dad

Today is Father’s Day and the build up has felt quite strange to me this year.  My dad passed away in February so this is the first year it suddenly didn’t have direct relevance to me.  Of course that caused me to notice every ad and mention of it.  I thought perhaps in commemoration of my dad that I would share with you a story about him that I learned only after his death.

I’ve been going in to see my mother every few months and part of my task is to wade through the many papers that my father accumulated.  He was a collector in many ways and as he aged it got a bit out of control.  I often recognize myself in his collecting and that too is eerie.  I read the articles that he clipped from the NY Times seeking to divine who he was and realize that they are exactly what I would focus on as well.  In hindsight I recognize a lot of myself in my dad and wish that I had known him better.  He always loved when my mom would say, “You’re your father’s daughter” and now I get it.

As the family historian and the financial person in the family, it is especially important that I be the one to go through the information.  It is painstaking work, a perfect task for a genealogist who knows that gems may be hidden amongst old junk.  I bring to it a curiosity about who my father was and an appreciation of his history as I examine each piece of paper deciding whether to toss, shred, keep or scan.  I make my decisions carefully knowing that once something falls into the junk or shred category it is irretrievably lost.  As a family historian I find myself keeping documents that address health history, life history and career history.  I have found old address books from my parents’ youth and even the early notes from when I began researching family.  My father was rather captivated by the idea and got on the phone to his cousins and distant relatives.  Many of the things that he learned and shared were there in notes, recorded in his tiny script.

On my second visit I stumbled across a box that contained some items that went into the keep and scan pile and actually gave me great insight into my father.  Oddly they spoke to a theme I’ve addressed recently here, the way in which we are shoehorned into career boxes. One yellowed piece of paper was dated 1947 and was when he was at the University of Denver.  He went there on the GI Bill after serving in the Navy in WWII.  He was 22 years old and had just gotten married earlier that year.  He had done some career counseling trying to decide on his career path and the document I found was their report after a wide variety of testing.  Listed at the top were three career directions:  electrical engineer, high school teacher and social worker.  Under special recommendations they noted, “Claimant should make up his mind in the near future as to course he is to pursue” and at the bottom they noted that they had reservations about the objective of electrical engineer because he had only an average Q score.  When I looked at his testing it noted he had a superior rating in social service. 

So what did my father do with this information?  He was not one to let others' reservations get in his way.  He in fact became an electrical engineer and a college professor going one step further to found the Department of Electrical Engineering at Bradley University where he was its dean for many years.  An eclectic and creative man (a combination that I suspect often goes together), he  then started the public television station in Central Illinois, later becoming the dean of a new department of Communications and Fine Arts.  My father worked tirelessly to start Channel 47 and he did it with a sense of mission that could only have grown from a deep sense of social service so presciently captured in that early testing.

I have written before of the tendency of the business world to assign us to career boxes when in fact our interests may not be so easily circumscribed.  Here was an example of how a creative person with multiple interests was able to incorporate them into his career path.  I can picture him thumbing his nose at the career counselors as he took his interests and assembled them into a structure of his own making of which they could never have conceived. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Personal Legacy

This blog was begun around the theme of family history.  This week I have been living a bit of my own family history as we laid my father to rest.  I delivered a eulogy at the service hoping I would get through it without triggering tears.   It felt important to me that I speak publicly about a man who was very much a public figure, but whom I knew through the lens of family.

I last visited my father shortly before he died.  As I walked into the room I was heartened when he exclaimed "Susela", to which I replied "Dadela", and he smiled.  That was our well worn path.  I sat with him and told him a little about what I was working on which ironically was a series of cross generational interviews in the Jewish Identity and Legacy project.  As I've written in these pages, I am interviewing elders and their children about the elder's legacy and its influence on their adult child. As I told him about it, it dawned on me that perhaps I should answer the same questions I was asking of others.

Sitting there with both my mother and father I began to tell my dad what I thought my legacy was from him.  I later wove much of what I told him into a eulogy.   What a wonderful gift to be able to share it with him directly.   A gift for him and a gift for me, nothing unfinished.

Among his many accomplishments, my father, Philip Weinberg, created the public television station that serves central Illinois.  He was a rather eclectic man with the ability to leverage technology to serve his love of culture and the arts.   He was a university professor, trained as an electrical engineer, but very much a visionary.  If something didn't exist that he felt was important, he didn't hesitate to start it.  He started the Electrical Engineering department at Bradley University and was its dean for twenty years.  Later in his career he founded and led the College of Communications and Fine Arts.  In between he built public radio, public television and numerous buildings and performance spaces. 

After his funeral the TV station interviewed me.  "Did you think it unusual that he went from being an engineer to communications and fine arts?" they asked.  "No", I replied as I thought of my own rather eclectic career spanning nonprofits, finance and the arts, a combination that never seemed unusual to me because of my father who encouraged me in all of my pursuits.   I grew up thinking you started things if they didn't exist, you loved your work and of course you would have diverse interests and explore them with passion.  Doesn't everybody? I took that for granted because that's what I witnessed every day.  Unlike the external world that saw what he did as extraordinary, I knew him in his everyday life as my Dad.  From the vantage point of that front row seat, I learned to view his perspective as the norm.  And that is quite a legacy.