A day wrought with conflict. I am a psychologist’s dream, except . . . I’m not.
One of my Dads was my idol the first 12 years of my life. Electric trains, Christmas lights, and most of all – baseball. Those were our things, my being the first-born son. And especially the baseball – he was the only coach I knew until I got to Pony League and 7th grade. 1966. Number One song – Winchester Cathedral. Number two, and my favorite – maybe of all time – the Cyrkle and their hit – Red Rubber Ball. My emotional favorite, especially that year? Walk Away, Renee.
You see, in April of that year, my folks – my heroes to that point in my life – divorced. It was nasty divorce. I even had to speak to the judge, my being 13, in his private chambers, alone. He figured maybe I had a handle on how all of it was hitting the five of us kids. Couldn’t speak to the other four – just myself. And I was a mess. I was 13, and in a way even I perceived at that young age, on my own. I loved Mom, but she was a far bigger mess than was I, and little prepared to shepherd the five of us, especially me, a headstrong oldest child dead set on making it to Major League Baseball.
Enter Charlie Chan.
That’s what the five of us called him – he was our provider, although I didn’t know it at the time, after my real father disappeared in August of ’66. My real dad as an engineer made 40 grand THEN, Charlie Chan made 12 grand. He had no business supporting a new divorced women with 5 kids and no means. Yet, he did. He wouldn’t live with us, until Mom relented and married him and made things legal. They were married 20 years and one month before Charlie passed and, sad to say, the marriage was never consummated. It is fair to say my mother, in her remaining 42 years, could never accept the divorce, nor Herb (Charlie) as her real husband. Again – I was a psychologist’s dream patient – except I was not.
Herb became Dad in short order. He had too, I needed a Dad, and his five sons were gone from his life and he needed an oldest son. Don’t ask me to explain that one – because I doubt it can be explained.
Dad was, simply put, there. H wasn’t a polished man, having been born and raised in the white German ghettos of Cleveland without his own father. He chose to be a good father, which is, and few would disagree, a monumental choice. And he became my father.
When I was 16 and full of rebellion, I rebelled. I was pissed at Mom for never having come out of her self-pitying fog, and at my newer Dad for always defending her. I never understood him doing that – not then. However, I did – soon.
I found (way before the internet) my biological father in 1969, and took off. No word to Mom or Dad. Just left – disappeared. Once there, I called them to let them know.
Three months later – I had had more than enough of my real father and his new wife. I called and told my now “real” father and asked for a plane ticket home. He never asked a question, but told me to call him the next day. He gave me all the flight info for three days hence, and I went and told my real dad and his new wife, who less than two years later would give birth to my young half-brother, 18 years my junior. They were thoroughly pissed at me. Colors came through. I guess their new son was a territorial claim sort of thing and all. For precise answers, ask the psychologist I never met.
Dad and I resolved, on the trip home from the airport, to talk everything that came up mano-a-mano. It became habit, and we were the very best of friends in a Father-Son relationship you could imagine until he passed, untimely at 57, eighteen years later.
In collar by then, I did the readings in the Catholic Church (he died in the faith), and I was a pall-bearer. He had been at every ball-game since I was 13, my HS graduation, when I returned from my tour of Turkey in the Air Force, my college graduation at A2, where he “polluted” the mind of my favorite prof about what a rebel I had been(!), and at my ordination. From then on he loving called me “Rabbi.” He knew the meaning of the word, but it was his way of back-handedly complimenting me for my achievements. In between all of that, we talked for long periods on the phone every week. despite the distance between us.
He beat bronchial cancer, and the night before his release from the hospital, with my Mom, her sister Frankie, my God-mother, and Unca Jim talking to him and making plans for when he got home, he had a massive heart attack and died immediately. Nothing of revival efforts did a thing. He had gone home and was finally at peace.
But he was my Father – at a time when a budding young man of 13 needs a father the most! He was always there – I have had, since his death 30 years ago, a large hole named “Dad” in my heart. Although safely among the eternal saints who join us every Sunday at the Eucharist, he shows up in my dreams with his presence being a bit of “familiar wisdom” to me. I know in my dreams he is not here with me, yet he is. Silently he still guides me in the task of being a worthy son and a good father to my own son, Daniel Paul – Daniel (Hebrew – עברית חדשה; Greek – Δανιήλ – and the “Paul” being for both the sainted Apostle, and Dad’s middle name. Justifiably proud is the best construction of his reaction – he cried and laughed at the same time and puffed out his chest when I told him the name of his grandson!
I could go on and on. But I was blessed with a man who was there when it counted most. I pray I have been half the father to my own son, as he was to me. I will always call him –