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Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller

Loving Daddy

Life shrinks or expands in
Proportion to one’s courage
Anais Nin

I have fallen in love with my father a dozen times. I married two of those loves and each time I examined the characters of these pseudo fathers I realized that they looked the part and acted the part I expected, but every one of them lacked my father’s courage.

My father’s bravery had nothing to do with aggression.. My father did not believe in physical or verbal violence. His was a different kind courage. He had the strength to step outside the box that contained him and move toward his goals like a telescope sighting a single star.

He was the son of an uneducated Polish butcher who immigrated to Toledo, Ohio in the early 1900’s with his wife. The two of them bought a house on Baker Street and had five boys my grandfather ruled with a cat-o-nine tails and an iron hand. He set up his shop in the middle of the Jewish ghetto and sold kosher meat to feed his family. The pressure on the children of Jewish immigrants to blend into the mass was enormous in those days. Their families had been ousted from the countries they had lived in all their lives because they were different. My Zadie fled his native country because he feared for his life. He left his relatives, learned a new language and tried to build a new life in a strange, unfriendly land because his religion made him different from the rest of the people in Bialistock. He wanted his sons to have an easier time in life and he believed that the way to succeed in America was to melt into the mainstream.

My father’s oldest brother became a lawyer and a respected member of Toledo’s greater business community. As the years went on, he dropped his Jewishness like a ragged cloak and when you met him, you could not detect a trace of his ethnic roots The second brother was more like a high living cowboy than a nice Jewish boy and that of course is another story. He followed the rules of the underworld where prejudice was not an issue. My father was the third son, the one who loved his father the most. He learned to drive the family truck when he was twelve so he could help his dad do meat deliveries and after school he was at the shop helping with sales. As the years went on and Daddy became proficient in numbers, he spent his after school time helping the immigrants on that street do their bookkeeping and file their tax returns.

My father was an obedient son but he harbored great ambition.. He knew from his work with debits and credits that he wanted to be an accountant and he planned the road he must take to achieve that goal. In high school, he signed up for a typing class. His advisor shook his head. “You can’t do that,” he said. “That class is for secretarial students. Only women take Typing I.”

“Is there a rule that men can’t learn secretarial skills?” asked my father.

He got in the class. “I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone to keep my records,” he told me. “Besides I got to sit right next to your mother and I was determined even then to win her heart.”

What he didn’t tell me was how the teacher badgered him and the other students taunted him. He didn’t mention that he got the highest grade on every typing test either and his typing speed far exceeded the total speed of the rest of the class combined.

When he got out of high school, he paid his own way to Boston to study at Bentley School of Accounting. At that time it was the best in the country. He wrote my mother every day but she ignored his letters. He was not in her master plan. She was more comfortable with good-looking conformists who didn’t wear glasses and knew how to do the shimmy. The only one in my mother’s family that liked him was my grandmother. She knew a diamond when she saw it, even a skinny one who squinted all the time.

It was my bubbe who made my mother attend my father’s graduation in Boston. My grandfather was furious. “How can you send her to a strange town all alone unchaperoned?” he thundered, but my bubbe smiled.

“It’ll be fine,” she said. “She’ll be safe with Izzy.”

And she was right.

My mother was a beautiful women and she knew it. She would never settle for a homely, clump like Izzy Miller no matter what her mother said. Still a trip to Boston was a trip to Boston and she let my bubbe buy her a new dress and take her to the train. My father met her at the train and took her to his room. “I’m staying down the hall with Abe Goldman.” he said. “The bathroom is at the end of the hall.”

My mother had shared a bedroom with her three sisters all her life and never spent a night anywhere all alone. She was petrified but she would have died before she’d confess her worry to my father. “Ida, when I leave, I am going to put my hat and gloves on the dresser,” he said. “When you turn off the light and the street light shadows dance on the wall, just look at my hat and gloves and know that I will protect you.”

He knew .

I think it was that act that endeared my father to my mother. My father’s gentleness was not considered very masculine in those days, but he didn’t care. He knew that kindness could never make him less of a man.

My father didn’t believe it was necessary to win a fight. He let my mother rail at him for everything from a tardy arrival to a stupid investment, and never defied her unless she intruded on his ideals . He refused to allow her to treat her black housekeeper like a servant, or be autocratic with the young Japanese girl we brought to Toledo from Heart Mountain during the war. “We are all people, Ida,” he said. “No one is better than another.”

He insisted on paying every employee top wage for their work and gave well over 30% of his income to charity. My father was one of the most complete humanists I have ever met. If you lived and breathed, he believed it was his obligation to care for you.

He was never afraid to stand up for what he believed was right. I don’t think in all his life he ever cheated or stole from anyone including the government whose machinations he despised “They treat the common man like dirt,” he would tell us. “The IRS says cheating on our taxes is a crime, but it’s the way they demean the people who come to them for help that is the real criminal act.”

My father lived his life like the golf games he played every morning. He competed against himself, but he never worried about the progress others made in their own fields. That was their business. He had enough to do to meet his own challenges and they absorbed him.

My father was a common man who did uncommon things He knew how important it was to grab his originality and run with it down the field of life. It takes strength to walk away from mass intelligence and form your own conclusions. “If I don’t get what I am after, it isn’t because I am poor or because I am Jewish,” he said. “Its because someone can do it better than I can.”

My father had no time to mourn his failures. Instead he used them to learn how to succeed the next time around. My father listened to his heart because he knew it held his answers. The men I loved could never step outside the expectations of others to reach for their stars. My father sifted through the Milky Way every day of his life looking for a meteor with his name on it. And each night, when he fell short of his goal., he’d say, “Tomorrow I’ll take what today taught me and I’ll try it another way.”

To be unafraid of failure. To be strong enough to pursue what you know is right no matter what. To care about the world and do something about it. All that takes courage. …my father’s kind of courage.

Whoso would be a man?
Must be a non-conformist
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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