|My father grew up in a large Russian immigrant family in northern Ohio. There were eleven
children in the family, and numerous relatives nearby.
Dad often reminisced about his early family life. He once described a typical day at home: his mother
kept a list of transgressions, and when his father arrived home from work, he would take a strap to each of
the offenders. His mother would intervene only to the point of pleading, "Not the head! Not the
head!" My father never labeled this treatment "child abuse", but he knew it was not the best
parenting to have had.
To help with the family finances, my dad had a paper route starting at age eight; he was not allowed to
return home until he had sold all his papers. He would probably not have called this child abuse either, but
he had a deep desire to give his children, as he often put it, the childhood that he had missed. He never
hit his own children, and although he sometimes misunderstood our intentions, he always tried to do what he
believed was in our best interests. When I once asked him how he had been able to treat my brother and me
better than his own father had treated him, he replied, simply, "I wanted my children to have a better
life than I had." My father was a good example of a man who somehow found it in his heart to treat his
own children with more compassion than he himself had received as a child.
I once asked my mother how Dad was able to be so loving despite having been punished so often by his
father. Mom quickly replied, "Sarah. His sister Sarah protected him." I found it interesting that
my mother, having never studied the psychological origins of behavior, had this perceptive insight. I owe
much to Sarah - and she herself must have been protected by someone1. This is what
gives me hope: love moves through the generations as readily as does pain.
Dad died in 1990, at the age of eighty-seven. For the last few years of his life, he suffered with
prostate cancer, poor vision, and general frailty. Near the end of his life, he was almost totally blind,
somewhat deaf, and used a walker. Slender all his life, he had become painfully thin. A man who enjoyed more
than eighty healthy, active years had been vanquished. But you wouldn't have heard that from him. Just a few
months before his death, nearly blind, and having great difficulty walking, he would be as eagerly excited
as a small child if we were going out for dinner. One day, during what turned out to be my last visit with
him, he used a walker for the first time in my presence. I must have looked surprised, because he put his
arm around me and whispered, "I don't really need this. I'm only using it to please your mother."
After Dad died, I shared that memory with Mom. We marveled at the strength of his proud will, which not even
cancer could break.
||Although Dad lived into his late eighties, for me he will always be in his early
forties, so vivid and special are my memories of our times together when I was a small child. Though he
was a hard-working, busy man, first as a travelling salesman, then as a retailer, he managed to spend
enough time with me that somehow in my memory, I picture him, like Ozzie Nelson2,
always at home.
My most precious memories were our trips around the block - he walking, I on my tricycle; I must have
been three or four. After we'd passed two corners, we could see the houses which backed against those on
our own street, and I would get excited. Most of these houses were "English Tudor" style;
those on our block were wood and brick, typical American 1940's architecture. My excitement came not
from seeing a different architectural style, but because Dad would pretend that this was England - not
merely English architecture, but England itself! There I was at age three, a global traveler, visiting
England every day. Dad always loved to travel, but more than that, he always believed in dreams.
Dad traveled often when I was small, but he made it clear that he deeply missed all of us when he was
away from home. I had a collection of "international" dolls, each dressed in a native costume.
Whenever Dad returned from a business trip, he would greet me with great excitement and pleasure, and
present me with a new doll. Yet it wasn't the dolls themselves that mattered to me, and it never felt to me
that he was using gifts as a substitute for his presence. These dolls were simply his way of telling me that
he had missed me and that he had thought of me while we were apart - a subtle message for a young child,
but he managed to communicate it. He would describe in great detail his trip to the store, his reasons for
having chosen that particular doll, and a little about the country represented. His pleasure in my happiness
Dad had a wonderful sense of humor; he would instantly stop whatever he was doing if someone had a joke
to share, and we laughed often in our family life. Dad's favorite comedian was Jack Benny, so every year he
too would turn "39". When I actually became 39, he was delighted that we were now "the
same age". He gave me the precious gift of seeing humor in even the most difficult situations. Shortly
before Dad died, I dreamed of his death. In my dream, I felt deep sadness, and complained to a friend,
"But now I can't tell him any more jokes."
We seldom hear this when a man of his age dies, but it's true of my dad: "And he was so
This article is dedicated with love and gratitude to Nathan Baron (1903-1990).