I spent much of my time before the age of 13 feeling like I was not a real member of my own family. That I was unwelcome to grow up, to be socially skilled, to have all my needs met even when they could have been afforded, every one, is a part of my family legacy.
For several years, I felt so left out that I thought for certain I must have been adopted. Only once certain features became apparent in young adulthood, would I then be convinced I was a product of the same gene pool as everyone else in the same generation within my actual family. And we did rather look alike at one point, just not overtly until later on.
My dad was a brute. A cold fish, he often hollered, and wouldn't be calm. (Or could not remain calm--I was never sure which to think.) The fact is that he denigrated my mother by putting her down constantly. Over the years, I watched her life force drain away into that marriage. She is not a happy person. Nor would he allow her enough peace so that she might enjoy herself in this world.
He used to use his hands against us, beating us sometimes till we were sore for days afterward. I have memories of cowering in corners while he lashed out at me with whatever he had to hand. I was a child with a broken spirit even prior to grade school. Mom seldom stuck up for me.
Consequently, it took me till I was in my mid-40's to find out I had enough value as a person. That I was enough in myself as just me, no fancy trappings required.
And it took a little old man with broken teeth and a smile as wide as all outdoors, and whose heart was deep and abidingly careful, to get me to see my own value.
He became the dad I'd always dreamed of having as a child. This was because he understood me and accepted me just as I was, warts and all.
He'd been through his own version of hell--three Nazi concentration camps--and lived to tell the tale. I seldom got to hear any details of his time in those horrid places unless I happened to be with him when we'd run across another Jewish man over the age of 25 or 30. I'd grow silent, try and make him forget I was present, so I could become privy to these stories which he kept from me for the most part.
He was one of the most intriguing debaters I'd ever met. He could turn an ordinary conversation into a lively discussion, and make your day, which had seemed flatly tiresome, into a 3D version of itself, suddenly full of life and color.
Most of all, he loved people, and was fascinated by human nature his whole life through.
When he and I first met, I was going through the early stages of understanding the depths of the abuse that had been visited upon me during my childhood years and youth. This was my reawakening, and it was to change me for life. I came to understand PTSD even better through learning of the disaster his life had become during the Nazi domination of Europe.
He had been a young man then, barely college aged when he'd been found and captured by the Nazis and thrown into his own nightmare. He almost did not make it through. The Nazis starved them all, even as they nearly worked them to death. Somehow, he was able to survive, and to hold out for a better time. It just as easily might have taught him to give up, I suppose, but he wasn't made to quit when faced with the insurmountable. He took it in stride, and outlived the Nazi regime, to be rescued by American soldiers when they dismantled the camp he was being held in near the end of the war.
He grew strong again, becoming quite the mountaineer. He pioneered it in Israel after the war, working his way across Europe to get there, then working at everything from sheep herding to soldier duty while he learned who he was without family to help him get by.
He was one of the shortest, slightest built adult humans I ever knew, shorter than me by several inches (I'm just over 5'5"). Raised on near starvation rations when he was a boy growing up in an Eastern European village, he never knew too much nourishment as a lad.
He was very scholarly, studied all his life at a variety of subjects, could speak several languages, and read both Aramaic and Hebrew fluently. He generally could be found at his desk every Saturday, taking notes with precise care, and in English, mind you, on whichever book or set of books he'd chosen to study. He taught me it was never too late to learn, or try anything different or new.
He was as warm hearted as the sun, and just as generous. I learned I had to say No, quite firmly, in order not to feel beholden to him. He often wanted to take me out to eat, but I would just as often nudge him into allowing us to cook together in his painstakingly kept little apartment's shiny clean kitchen.
I'd play a mental game with myself before arriving at his door. I'd say to myself, "I am a human sponge, here to soak up all the wisdom and caring this good friend has to offer today." Then I'd spend our time together listening with rapt attention to his many stories. He used to call me up now and then when he hadn't heard from me in a while and say things like, "When are you going to come and visit me? I have so many stories!"
He became my real dad. The fact that I barely had time to get to know him (just over 2 1/2 years) still can make me shed tears of deep sadness with regret.
My real dad is gone today, but not forgotten. I keep his memory well and fondly. He had many friends besides me, and was loved by a great many people of both genders, and from all walks of life. He'd have given you his last dollar if he knew it was for a good cause, something truly needful. He could use great personal discipline, and lived to help others all his life.
So here's to the memory of my real dad. That's who I think of when I like to recall a male presence with benevolent intent. He wasn't perfect, by any means, and we didn't always agree, but he was a cut above the rest I've known. Always, he'll have the lion's share of space in my heart.