I excitedly sat in my Abnormal Psychology class at Baruch as my professor explained our new assignment. I am giving you all a questionnaire to fill out based on your interests and personalities. Once I have analyzed them, I am assigning you a personalized book to read based on your answers. Before even exploring the world of Personality Types, I realized this was a unique assignment based on our unique selves. I couldn’t wait to find out and read what he had chosen for me. What inner truths and dreams would he expose? Would I get to understand myself on a deeper level? I was literally quivering with excitement!
I don’t recall the title of the book or the author. I just recall the story. It was of a young man who was wrongly accused of a crime. He lost the trial and was given a death sentence. The end of the book sickens and haunts me. It describes his execution in detail and his extreme suffering, something akin to the movie The Green Mile. Upon finishing the novel, I called for a private meeting with my professor. Why in the world would you assign me this heart wrenching book? What in my personality made you think I would enjoy or reap the benefits of such a cruel and unjust tale? It’s right here in your questionnaire he steadily and logically answered. Look, he said as he clearly pointed to one of my answers. Who do you admire most? My father. What does this person do? A lawyer. I looked up at him enigmatically. I still don’t understand. Well, your father was a lawyer and I thought that is why you look up to him. I felt myself getting warm and my fair skin showing intense redness. I look up to him for his empathy, warmth and kindness…
My father was born on October 16, 1929 right after the stock market crash. He was the only son and child of two Hungarian Jews. His father Paul was warm and funny and always concerned about his son David. He was a dress salesman. My grandmother was an intellect and an artist who made sure to bring up her son “to do the right thing.” They were both always surrounded and immersed in reading various of types of literature. Both of his parents were from large, close knit families. I was always a bit closer to my father’s paternal side. He considered many of his first cousins as siblings. I remember my great-grandmother who used to design for royalty in Hungary. Her cousin was Eva Zeisel, a famous sculptor and designer who I actually met on her 100th Birthday with another cousin of mine when she was being honored at Pratt Institute in NYC. She fondly remembered my grandfather’s antics and personality as well as his son, my father David.
My father was the kindest man you would want to meet. Everyone he ever met expressed that about him; in our home it was the greatest quality one could possess. Some people see that as a weakness, but to us it was a strength. He actually wanted to be an English teacher or professor, but he became a lawyer to please his parents albeit it blatantly went against his XNFP personality type. After all, nice Jewish boys become Rabbis ( which he considered), doctors or lawyers. He hated confrontation or taking money from his clients (our house was always filled with chocolates or sweaters in lieu of payment). Anyone he came to for a divorce, he insisted on counseling toward a reconciliation first. Some couples had to beg him for a divorce.
Another telling and perhaps humorous thing is that whenever I had a breakup with a boyfriend, they continued to miss and visit my father at his office in the city. Needless to say, I think they missed him more than me!
When I was fifteen, my then boyfriend, came over without a proper jacket. He took out his army jacket which fit Steven perfectly. I want you to keep it, he insisted. The reluctant, but grateful Steven kept and treasured that jacket for many years. Forty-five years later I received a surprise in the mail. It was the perfectly cleaned and folded army jacket in pristine condition. Steven kindly returned it so I could pass it down to my grandsons. Ironically, if my father wouldn’t have willingly given him the jacket, it would have gone down with Superstorm Sandy.
Years ago, my father gave me all of his treasured memories to hold on to. “ I know how sentimental you are and will keep these safe. I know you will pass these down,” he ceremoniously stated. The box contained his many letters to his parents while he was in the army during the Korean War, his old family pictures, a tattered autograph book from his 8th grade graduation with his mother’s photograph enclosed in its pages, his boy scout card amidst a myriad of precious treasures.
Recently, I climbed up into my attic closet. A few years ago, in my great attempt to be a more organized person, I bought dozens of plastic storage boxes painstakingly labeling each one. I was searching for a piece of clothing. As I reached to grab it, a box came flying out and landed at my feet. It was my father’s memory box. While he was alive, he gave me all of his memorabilia, knowing how I treasured memorabilia and I was basically the family historian. I remember as a young teen, I expressed to him that I never wanted him to leave me; I never wanted to live without him. “I will live on through you and your family,” he gently replied. At the time I would not entertain the thought. After my father passed, I would not go near his memory box. Now it had come to greet me, not so quietly demanding that it was time. Not being ready to study it, I placed it for several weeks in a convenient spot.
One day, fifteen years years after his passing I took every letter out and devoured its contents. At the age of 63 I was infiltrating the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of my 25 year old father who was yet to become a husband, father, grandfather, lawyer, law professor, cherished advisor and advocate of many. I ran my fingers over what was once the ink that freshly glistened over what was now delicate paper. His pen had run across the many pages he had written with his young heart and mind to his parents when he was in the reserves during the Korean War.
His essence was apparent in every word. He was poetic and romantic through the rose colored lens he had assigned to this life, even during his military training. He apologized to his parents for not writing more plainly. “I will try,” he contritely offered.
I stopped writing at this point for two months. I could not finish, edit or revise it until…
The other day, a few months after finally examining his memory container, my almost ten year old grandson Ethan came to visit. After watching Back to the Future II and III with him, I asked him what he wanted to do next with me. “Grandma could we look at all of your photo books?” Ethan plaintively queried. “You know, I really love photography,” he continued.
Side note- I am picture crazy and am constantly making up hard copies of my digital pictures to savor and then pass down to the family. I have 45,000 pictures in my phone!
I decided to take down my father’s memory box. I placed them in front of Ethan. Pictures and other memorabilia poured out from the 1930s and 1940s. His eyes sparkled as he tenderly cooed, “Look at all of those precious, precious memories.” He carefully touched the fragile autograph books and photographs. I could tell he was spiritually time traveling back to those moments.
At that moment, I felt safe. He cared as much about the memories as I did. It was innate. I knew why I waited to finish his story: because there was no ending. His goodness would live on…
My father disliked being a lawyer. He hated confrontation and he hated taking money from struggling clients. He ended up teaching Law at LaGuardia Community College until his sudden and unexpected death at seventy-five years of age. The letters below are from a binder that was presented to my family when his colleagues paid a visit during the shiva. They are treasured and say it all. This is who my father was…
David, my father-in-law and I used to have lengthy conversations during our walks on the boardwalk. Family, politics, economics and business, history, books, movies, religion and on and on. No topic was off limits, as we endeavored to fix the world. David always approached things in a philosophic, yet tender manner. He had a way of finding the romance in everything. I always left him feeling better about myself and the universe.
At David’s funeral, I eulogized him by comparing him to the biblical King David. King David defeated Goliath with the sling shot. David Wertheimer’s weapon of choice was his warmth and kindness, which inevitably won you over. David was an unconventional man, because he belied all of the stereotypes of manhood. He was a gentle soul who was beloved for his big heart and idealistic mind.
I still miss you, my friend…Bob Epstein