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Eulogy

I found it very difficult to begin writing this eulogy for the man who was my Dad. How do you pt into words a lifetime of memories and convey – in just a few moments – the totality of a 90-year journey of life?

My relationship with my father was always a special one. Despite being a child of divorced parents from a very young age, I have so many happy memories of my childhood. Though I didn’t live with him, the weekends that I spent with him were made up of various adventures – whether it was a trip to an amusement park, rides on his motorcycle to new Hope Pennsylvania or Mystic, Connecticut or even something as simple as going bowling or shopping, I always felt very loved.

My Dad would take me for rides on his bike pretty often. Looking back, I cannot believe my mother allowed it! I would strap on the helmet, wrap my arms around his waist and hold on tight. Sometimes he would do tricks like tipping the bike from side to side super low to the ground. It was terrifying, exhilerating and thrilling all at once, but I always felt safe.

For our longer trips, I would take a book along and read while he drove. Yes I did that! (I guess I didn’t always have two arms wrapped around his waist.) He would tell me I was missing a lot of good sites, but I didn’t care. I was content and felt safe enough to let go with one arm and never felt like I was missing a thing.

My dad spent a good portion of his early life doing things that were expected of him. He married my mom (his childhood, sweetheart) served in the army during the Korean War, and came back home to New York to work in the family business being a kosher butcher, along with my Grandfather and my Uncle Dave. But he hated the butcher business; his real dream was to become a Forest Ranger. His dad would never permit that especially after he allowed my Uncle Dave to attend George Washington University, where he earned a degree in Botany of all things. My grandfather’s indulgence of my Uncle’s “folly” was enough to ensure that my Dad was never encouraged or allowed to pursue his dreams. I suppose, in an effort to quell his desire to live life in the great outdoors, he became a Boy Scout leader, instead of a forest ranger.

But, do not fret –  as he later manage to turn his recreational, hobby and love of motorcycles into a business. My dad opened a store in Plantation, Florida called Cycle Mart, which was a supermarket for all things Harley Davidson. He was a talented mechanic who would take an old bike apart and rebuild it just for fun. He belong to several bike clubs, and every year would do a charity ride with toys for tots so kids would have gifts to open during the holidays.

In the 70s, he was the quintessential cowboy, wearing Lee jeans, cowboy hats and boots and smoking his Marlboro cigarettes. He smoked pipes too, and had quite a collection. I remember they were displayed on a round carousel holder. I would rearrange them and spin them around and around.

Anyone who knew my dad will tell you he was a strong as they come. I am not sure where he got his strength, but if I had to guess I would say, it was from my grandma, Ida, his mom. He would tell me stories about his 4’11” mother who, when they lived in Fairfax, Virginia – would bring a pitcher of water and cups out to the convicts working on the road on a chain gang. I would say to him, “Dad, Grandma may have been tough, but she was obviously very kind, too”. This was my dad also. 

If you woke my father up from a sleep, he would immediately startle with his fists clenched and ready for combat – right up until the last days of his life. He adored watching movies and loved John Wayne, despite always reminding me that he was labeled a “draft dodger”.

Some fun facts: he hated being called Herbie. We only found out about this about a month ago. In truth, he preferred Hari or Herb. He could name the exact year of any movie. He refused to eat anything green. Ever. Unless it was spoon fed to him by his granddaughter Sydney. He truly was potty in her hands. He was superstitious. He was sentimental. He never retired. He became an elementary school crossing guard in his late 70s and continue doing that until he was 88 and then only stopped because of the pandemic. He absolutely loved dogs. His dog Rambo?? was with him until earlier this year, when he just couldn’t care of him anymore. With the help of my cousin Stacey, in Florida, I was able to find a home for Rambo?? on a farm in Loxahatchee. When I dropped him off, I took videos and show them to my dad when I returned home. By this time his dementia was progressing. It’s interesting, the human mind. How strong it can be. After seeing the videos of Rambo?? on the farm, dad created a narrative that allowed him to except this profound loss. one day, he conjured a story. He told me that he had gone to Loxahatchee to see the dog. This was just a few months ago well after we stopped, giving him access to his car. He told me that he drove up and watched Rambo, but that he wouldn’t allow the dog to see him. Watching from the shadows, he saw a happy Rambo, playing with children, ducks, and chickens. Of course, he never actually saw this, but the images he saw on my iPhone, somehow created this reality for him and this allowed my father to accept life without his beloved pet. That’s how strong the human mind is. We can create an alternate reality to except the absolutely unacceptable. My father survived a host of illnesses beginning in 2005 when he came to New York for his birthday, and ended up getting a quadruple bypass and staying with me for nine weeks. He had diabetes, which he did not even try to control. Unless you consider dove bars, Mello, Mars, and chocolate ice creama diabetic menu. If you can allow for that, then he was a very compliant patient. In 2013, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The doctor called me and advised of his diagnosis, and stated that his prognosis was approximately three months to live. He told me my father would never speak again and that we should start making end-of-life “arrangements”. I directed that doctor not to speak a word of this prognosis to my father. I was on the next plane to Florida and went to the doctor with him where upon the doctor explained that he did have lung cancer. He did not say that he had three months to live as I had instructed before I arrived, and when my father asked what the treatment plan was, the doctor offered chemotherapy. My father rolled up his sleeves and said let’s get started. Well, that was 9 years ago.

He survived a stroke. He survived at least two heart attacks. He survived pneumonia, and his diagnosis of dementia stayed with him until the end. Of course we all know that dementia is a progressive disease. He never forgot who I was. Each health crisis brought out the fight and him. He fought right up until the end and even then he fought some more, although he was “ready to go” as he said, more than once, there was a bigger plan for him. The last year was hard to watch; the last two months or excruciating. I know I should’ve given him “permission” to let go, but I could never bring myself to say the words. He knew it and held on much longer than he wanted to, I know – because of me. I do feel a bit guilty, and may be a little selfish for that. But that was our relationship. Upon so strong that we both held on with both hands until the very end. I am comforted, knowing that his broken and frail body is finally out of pain. I want to remember him for the strong and proud fighter that he was in the lessons that he taught me about resilience and resolve. He spoke often about seeing his parents and brother again along with my beautiful niece Lyndsey, who is lost to so he did not know this, but Rambo predeceased him by a couple of months. Now they are all together.

About a month ago, I got a call that Rambo?? had passed away from kidney failure. I never told my father preferring instead to let him have his own reality about Rambo?? living happily on that farm. Knowing him when he arrived at the pearly gates, and saw his pup was already there. He was mad at me, but only just for a minute. Rest in peace, daddy I love you forever.

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