There’s a saying that I’ve heard repeated numerous times in my life, and I’ve even used it myself. It goes like this, “If he knew better, he would have done better”. If I were asked to sum up my father in one sentence, this would be the one. Though I look like the spitting image of my mother, I am my father’s daughter.
The stories I’ve heard of his upbringing range from romantic to horrifying. He was born Franklyn Theodore Gordon on October 29, 1928. His first birthday was marked by the stock market crash and the biggest Depression to ever hit the world. My mother used to joke that his parents must have been frightened by a Roosevelt when they named him. I think instead it was the joy of the immigrant, no matter their socio-economic level to have fled whatever hardships confronted them, to find opportunity in America. Both of my parents were children of immigrants, but my paternal grandparents earned a living, shall we say, the more traditional route, than my maternal grandparents. They owned the general store on the town square in Morristown, New Jersey. My grandfather bought it from my grandmother’s father. It was instilled into my father at an early age that hard work was the only way to succeed in life. If there was no business, pick up the broom and sweep the floor. When you were finished, begin again. The owner doesn’t need to stand around watching you standing around watching him.
His relationship with his parents was complicated. I heard tales of his lunch being wrapped in a roadmap when he went to school. If he wasn’t home on time, he was told to keep on going because his room would be rented out. Perhaps this was true, perhaps it’s merely family lore. Either way, it is a harsh way to teach a child punctuality, and certainly didn’t add a sense of security to the mix. As a teen he came home drunk one Saturday night, and woke up hanging from a hook in the closet. My grandparents didn’t mess around.
When I was very young, about six years old, my father became very religious. It was only when I was a mother myself, that I learned my father had been searching for a spiritual path his entire life. He had tried out numerous religions. While serving in the military back in the late 1940’s, he came home on leave once counting the rosary. My grandmother almost disowned him. Fortunately, that phase passed quickly, and he lived. As he became more and more religious, the way our family lived our lives changed. We were expected to keep kosher, keep the Sabbath, obey all the rules in the Torah – and in case you are curious, there are 613. My mother loved my father very much, and was willing to go along with a lot of the requirements to make him happy. My two older sisters were already in school, so it was not as easy to get them to change their lives. I, on the other hand, was his last chance kid. So, off to Yeshiva day school I went.
My father was a scholar. He began school at age three not because my grandmother wanted him out of the house, but because he was already reading and writing. He had a near encyclopedic mind. At age 58, he had a brain stem stroke that left him without use of his body for the remainder of his life. His mind was still sharp, and he spent the rest of his life reading a book a day. He had the stroke while visiting his mother in Arizona. The doctors told us there would be no miracles, and he would either die or be a vegetable (what idiot came up with that term?!) He drew a picture of a dolphin on the chalkboard in the family room, and explained about the brain stem, and how once it was compromised as severely as my father’s had been, there was no coming back. We thanked him, and told him he didn’t know Fabulous Frank! My sister, Nancy and I were keeping ourselves sane during our long hospital vigil by doing crossword puzzles. I asked her across the room one day, “What’s the name of a river in Russia that begins with an S and is seven letters?” In a quiet, but recognizable voice we hear, “The Sakmara River”. Fabulous Frank was back.
He was an inventor. When I was about nine or ten years old, my father sat all of us down at the dining room table to show us his idea for this vast store that would carry nothing but different size containers and shelving. We thought he was so weird. The Container Store is one of my favorite stops whenever I move or am reorganizing. I wish I’d encouraged him instead of rolling my eyes. He invented the planters made from stones that are so beautiful. Also, how I would love a piece of his cheesecake on a stick. He would always make me my favorite flavors, even though no one else ever bought the rest of them.
If my father was a young man today, chances are he would be a scanner. Barbara Sher helped me figure out that I am a scanner, and that is not a bad thing, just different. He would also likely be an** INFP INFP**, like me. He liked being around people, but it was clear that they drained him, and he was happiest being on his own, like me. He used to tell people he was glad he had all girls because he wasn’t expected to do anything with us. I understand what he meant, though I didn’t at the time.
My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died four months later. I had moved from Dallas to San Diego less than a year earlier, and my sisters had been gone for some time. He and my mother had divorced in 1979, but remained the best of friends, and are buried under one headstone. Sadly, mom died on dad’s 61st birthday, October 29, 1989, so by the time of his death, he was alone with his books. Pretty much the way he liked it. I’ve thought about this a lot, and even discussed it with my sister. Though my mother was the one that I spent the most time with – shopping, cooking, watching movies, my father was the one who guided my life. He was the one who gave me the tools that I pick up each day to work my way through the world. Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.