My long-distance dad was always thereBy Rabbi Richard F. Admin, DMin
Father’s Day has come and gone. President Obama energized the call for the power of fatherhood, and memories returned for many of us. I hope you were lucky enough to be able to share the day with your dad. Mine died several years ago. It is a curious and wonderful reality that in many ways, he is still very present in my life.
I was one of those people growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s whose parents were divorced. In fact, I went through a series of stepparents as I grew up, as both my mom and dad remarried. I needed to travel from Philly to Baltimore to spend time with my dad. It was a trip I got used to taking every other weekend, for years, via the old Pennsylvania Railroad (the pre-Amtrak days!). The great event, in those times, was the ability, once I was a teenager, to drive my own car. What freedom!
It is strange to remember the relationship we had with fathers. My father, from the time I was five years old, was absent physically from my daily life. Yet, in some ways, he was always present. Even now, so many years later, I cannot fully explain it. He graduated Central High in Philadelphia in 1929, but the Depression compelled him to enter the work force rather than college. Different times called for different choices. He worked very hard. Ten- or twelve-hour days were not unknown; indeed, I remember they were the norm. I still recall some of those visits to Baltimore, where he settled, as he was starting his company. I would spend the bulk of the weekend riding along with him as he answered service calls to clients. You can learn a lot by hanging out with your dad as he works.
In fact, those experiences helped him form his philosophy of life, which he passed on to me several times. It was simple: “There is no substitute for hard work,” he would say. The message was repeated over and over in different ways, but the core remained the same. Do not be afraid of hard work, and if you work hard, good things will happen. Our father-son “bonding” consisted of us either sitting in his car (or later, a service truck), talking about the next service call or glorious (and memorable) Sunday afternoons at Memorial Stadium watching the late and blessed Baltimore Colts.
The business grew over time, and he let me help out some as I got older. Eventually, he had enough help and success that he was able to delegate some of the harder work. He sold the business and tried to retire. He failed at that, and I am convinced that his “retirement” helped lead to his death. He had no retirement plan, no sense of a next stage of life. He worked. That was his life.
And I think of him often. He was not remotely a spiritual person. He was a bottom-line guy. He could not understand why I chose the rabbinate over his company. Yet, in a very real way, he was always there for me. He was always available to help navigate choices, to give an honest opinion devoid of drama. My dad played it straight down the middle. Was he without blemish or foible? No way! But, in the grand scheme of things, did it matter? Not in the least. He was a long-distance dad who was always there. Strange how life is and how powerful dads are. Enjoy yours. I always remember mine with love and gratitude and wish he were here now.