19 November 2010
Liz O'Hara © 2010
My father was a brilliant man, but that alone was not the thing that made him so special. It was his life-long passion for learning, communicating and connecting with other people that made him so memorable to everyone who knew him. I think these are the things that made him so special to me.
As a child, I remember that if I showed the smallest interest in something, he took the time to do the experiment with me, take me to the right museum, or introduce me to the person who knew about it—he knew a lot of people—and he always, always came home with the relevant books. And not just once: he encouraged me to pursue a topic over time. Learning for my dad was not just for school. He always wanted to know more and taught us to take life in in the same way.
Remember I said he knew a lot of people? He really knew them. My father loved people. Whether it was the woman who ran the used bookstore behind the library or the clerk at the supermarket, he asked them about themselves, remembered their stories, and kept on like this until the end.
Dad was a true historian from all angles. He knew all about the Revolutionary War roots of our small town, about art, about the European histories of his and my mother’s families and of course, his biggest passion, creating a living document of the rich Jewish life disappearing from an area where he spent so much of his life, the South Bronx.
My father wrote passionately, strove to become a better public speaker through a local public speaking club, and shared his ideas through thoughtful discussion with friends, family and colleagues. How ironic that a man so passionate about communicating what he knew would lose his ability to speak clearly near the end. And even when it was difficult, he didn’t give up. He worked with a speech therapist and practiced his exercises religiously. He called on people he knew could help him get the technology he needed to keep writing when he couldn’t use his hands, calling on Sandra, his loyal aid, to write for him and help him continue his work.
My father never gave up at anything. If it was important to him, he kept working and moving forward, finding solutions and new ways of doing things. How many men born in the 1920s embraced the Internet the way he did to stay connected to the world? He was a true miracle.
But perseverance is only part of his story. My father had a sense of humor rivaled by few. With a family like us, humor was often the only way. One of his favorite stories to tell about me was from the year I decided to try out for the soccer team. I had an important game and he didn’t want me to be late, yet he waited and waited and patiently waited as I blow-dried my hair before going off to run my little heart out on the soccer field. Did he mention it was pouring rain outside?
He supported me through my brief stint as an athlete and then, when as a young adult I embraced my interest in the theater, he was always proud of my performance, however small my part was. And as difficult as it was becoming for him to travel, he and my mother made a point of being at my art opening in Italy.
He could also laugh at himself. One of my favorite stories about him was the time he wanted to do his army buddies a favor before an inspection. To make sure the rafters were extra clean, he hosed down the inside of the canvas tent, neglecting to check the weather forecast first. When it rained that night, they all got soaked. I loved hearing that story because of the way he told it, laughing and beaming when he got to the punch line.
My father loved each of us—and every person in his life—for exactly who we were. He saw the good in everyone. I am so grateful that he got to meet my children, his two youngest grandchildren. From birth, they both had a connection with him and knew he loved them. And they adored him too. Everyone who knew my father adored him. He was really something special.