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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

birthday gift story

My dad turns 80 this April and last weekend I watched a videotaped interview I did with him ten years ago. My brothers want me to make a video for his birthday party. The party will be part of a full weekend which, of course, includes a Sabbath in an Orthodox setting. Family gatherings that fall on Jewish holidays, or even Sabbath, always cause me a lot of anxiety and apprehension - especially when Sally and my sons are coming too.

But the tape draws me in completely. I never watched it before. He talks about starting out in business with only a religious Jewish high school education, borrowing money to buy a kosher butcher shop in a little town he'd probably never been to - Peoria, Il, after working in the Chicago stockyards for three years. Marrying my mom as teen agers; paying $37 per month for a basement apartment as newlyweds; discovering that he could sell ad specialties with only catalogs in hand and starting "SelMor Advertising"; finding investors and buying a couple of machines to print ads on giveaway plastic items; ("The Graduate" with its immortal line about "plastics" had a special meaning for me.) Somehow, it's easy to see my dad as a young man braving a largely unknown world - just a few layers beneath the wrinkles and white hair of this later version. Stories pass by so quickly in retrospect, like the pages of a thick novel blown over to the final chapter outside in a sudden breeze.

It touches me deeply to hear of his early years. The story of a young man wanting to make a life....wanting "to become a man" as he says in the tape. A story so universal and far removed from our father-son dynamics.

Stories became nearly impossible to exchange across the chasm between my secular life and his orthodox life, a gulf that widened over 35 years as we traveled different trajectories. But this early chapter from an age- as young as my sons are now- is a time-warped-sort-of-bridge.

Tomorrow, I turn 55, and the connected, compassionate feelings that Ab's "young man stories" have imparted feel like a wonderful birthday gift one day early......or 35 years late depending which way the breeze is blowing.

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