Many of you who are here today only knew my father as an older, more dependent man who was less likely to be the life of the many parties that Debbie and Stu have had over the years. Only a few of you knew him as a younger, more connected, and forever dedicated husband, big brother and parent whose patience, attention to detail and capacity to love and be loved was far more in evidence than in his later years. It is those memories, and the legacies that you see here today, that I’d like to share with you.
My father grew up as a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and later pledged his geographic loyalty to the Mets while still supporting the LA Dodgers. When you make those kinds of choices, patience becomes a virtue instilled by necessity. For the non-baseball fans here, suffice to say both teams lost a lot more than they won, frequently breaking your heart in the process, but every few years achieve some measure of success that makes it worth your while to support them and love them. My father took me to my first baseball game at age 4—a night game at the Polo Grounds, for heaven’s sake—and while I was later told I slept through most of it he meticulously recalled that the Mets won that game, 8-6, with a walkoff homer from Jim Hickman. Considering they won only 51 of 162 games that year, that was a most unusual experience. And Jim Hickman became my first favorite baseball player.
We watched many, MANY more games together—Mets, Yankees, the national games, but he always cared about the Dodgers first. We’d sit up late nights together and he’d turn on WINS all-news radio at 15 and 45 past the hour to get the updated scores from the Coast—if the game went too late, he’d immediately turn the radio on the next morning to get the final score and if I was woken up by a less-than-muted “Phooey! That damn Walter Alston!” I’d know the Dodgers had lost yet again. We went to many games at Shea Stadium—often midday games during his summer vacation—with the $1.30 seats in the top deck, we’d each get a puny little hot dog with the really tasty Gulden’s mustard packets and a lukewarm box of Sun Dew orange drink—gourmet cuisine—and would often get there in time for batting practice. Few people in the park, you could hear the crack of the bat even up that high, and we’d watch and he’d tell me stories about the old Dodgers he remembered from his childhood. The Mets would lose more often than not—1969 was proven over time to be an aberration, and Jim Hickman had been traded by then—but those days were often the highlights of the vacation.
He tried—with not much success—to get me to play baseball. He’d wake me up at dawn on a Saturday morning to get me ready for about a two-hour bus and train ride to the Bronx/Westchester border. His work friends ran the league, and they would at least let me try to play. I would have much rather stayed at home and watched cartoons, and I put up a fight every week. And then I’d try to play—and I was awful. Like WAY worse than any of the Bad News Bears. And I’d cry and embarrass him. But he never stopped wanting to try to get me to learn—and I probably didn’t appreciate how much he WAS trying until decades later. So, one more time, Dad, thanks for trying—at least Brad has become a good player and made up for my failures.
He trained me to proofread numbers and work fast with calculations during the off-season. Each winter he ran a small tax preparation business out of our kitchen, mostly for the neighbors he grew up with in Middle Village. A highly demanding and perpetually nervous clientele. He’d sit with his printing calculator—his one mastery of “modern” technology—and every night I’d read his carbon copy of the IRS Form 1040s and the New York State 201s and 208s and we’d triple-check his calculations; G-d forbid we’d shortchange the good friends and patrons of my grandfather’s pharmacy a possible two or three extra dollars in refund money. And after a few years I actually started to understand some of the lines and calculations on the forms, and I’d ask him questions like “did Mr. Mankowitz really give $210.52 to the UJA last year?” He’d pause and smile and said “Well, no, but if you put down an odd number and it’s not all that big the government will never catch it”. And, to the best of my recollection, they never did. So not only did I learn the importance of mathematical accuracy, I also learned the limits of legitimate cheating. Now considering I’ve largely spent my career creating sales spiel and plausible 10-Ks for billion dollar media companies, those winter nights at the kitchen table proved to be both invaluable and necessary training.
In both of the worlds that mattered most to my father, sports and accounting, he always stressed how important it was to be there when it mattered most—in the clutch. One of his favorite Brooklyn Dodgers was Pee Wee Reese—their captain, their shortstop–the Derek Jeter of Flatbush in the 40s. As Dad used to intone, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, the Louisville Colonel, was never a home run hitter, never as popular in pop culture as Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella or even Carl Furillo—Dad did wear Furillo’s number on his softball jersey—but he always loved how Pee Wee managed to get the big hit when it mattered most—even if he went 1-for-5, he’d always manage to get that hit in the late innings and it would usually produce a rally that sometimes even produced a win. So when Dad would step up and schedule four tax appointments in one day on April 13th or 14th to be sure his clients wouldn’t file late—often schlepping in rain and snow on Queens bus lines that ran about as often and as quickly as the Pony Express—he was coming through in the clutch for them.
He continued to come through in the clutch in later life. He stood up and proudly and stoically gave Debbie away at her wedding. He walked me down a wedding aisle twice, and I could tell by the way he grasped my hand how proud he was, especially the second time when he knew I had finally gotten it right. He read his Aliyahs perfectly at both Rachel’s baby naming and her Bat Mitzvah. He cut the challah like a pro at Rachel’s bat mitzvah party, dancing the hora and even a couple of fox trots with Auntie Ullita. And just four months ago, when things were beginning to get worse for him, he still managed to make it out to New Jersey and stood at the Bima and delivered his flawless Aliyah at Brad’s bar mitzvah. My mother Barbara—rest her soul, and who I am certain is critiquing every minute of this from somewhere on high– wasn’t fortunate enough to physically know Amanda, Stu, Rachel and Brad but Dad was a presence in all of their lives and did formidable double duty as the in-law and grandparent on our side. He got to be present for all of this joy and happiness and was my mother’s conduit for the joy she wished for her entire life, and I have no doubt she has somehow gotten copious details on every one of those events along the way.
The main regret my father had throughout his life was never feeling he was as successful as he would hoped to be. And though we didn’t have a lot of dad-to-son conversations in later years, in the ones we did have I frequently would remind him of what he had accomplished, particularly in providing the foundation for the lives and families both myself and Debbie have been able to create. Our respective successful careers. Our wonderful homes. Our ever-supportive and incredibly tolerant soulmates, Amanda and Stu. Our beautiful families, particularly Rachel and Brad—and may I please also add Rex , Bernie and Foster, his adoring grand-pets? I am pretty sure the latter two are licking him with welcomes somewhere right now. The supportive community Debbie and Stu have forged in their synagogue, which Amanda and I have been able to share on more joyous occasions. The love, loyalty and the home he was able to provide for not only my mom Barbara, Debbie and I, but for Sally, Shania and, rest her precious soul, Ullita. The love and respect he shared with all of you who took the time to get to know him.
On a lot of those Mets games we watched and listened to, their Hall of Fame announcer Bob Murphy used to sign off every victory—and over time, there were a good deal of them–with his “happy recap”. Well, Dad, here’s what I believe is your happy recap–you were the very epitome of success, and we are your proof.
Those of you who’ve known him for only a portion of his life will no doubt miss him. Those of us who got to know him longer will miss him even more. I love you, Dad. Give Mommy—and Ullita, and Grandpa Dave and Grandma Eddye and Uncle Stan and Uncle Kenny and Aunt Mildred and Alan and Grandma Sadie and Poppy—and everybody else who’s waiting for you– a kiss and a hug for all of us, please.
Thank you all for being here to support us today.