just be together.
I strive to take my dad's teaching into my parenting, understanding that whatever I do or teach my daughters, it is loving, laughing, living time together that is the greatest gift of all. And, of course, a plateful of fresh morel mushrooms for dinner doesn't hurt.
-- Rev. Kim Smith, Corte Madera
* * *
"Daddy, why don't you like George Wallace?" He tossed aside his subway-folded New York Times, frowning over the Alabamian's '68 presidential run.
"I don't like prejudiced people."
He studied me.
"I heard him speak in the South," mouthing "South" as if it were a foreign, primitive place. "I stood in front. He reached to shake my hand. I shoved my fist in my pocket."
He mentioned segregation, the black girls I jumped rope with on our city playground.
"Others shook. I made a point."
I imagined him, in crew cut and overcoat, alone; a terrible fate to a 9-year-old. It's not as though he was unaffected by bigotry; our friends were white Jews like us. He folded his paper to the chess page, eyed his ongoing game, struck down a white pawn.
My father lectured me, paternally -- crease your Times sharp as pressed trousers, strategize your chessboard, patiently, to checkmate. Distracted, I ignored him. Now the pages of my Times flutter to the floor, I advance pawns with my own 9-year-old as if they were checkers.
But his stories? Those images stuck. Challenge your prejudices. Live a principled life. Even if it means standing alone, hands jammed in your pockets.
-- Lyssa Friedman, Mill Valley
* * *
There is only one thing that I learned from my father, and that is that I will never be like him.
My dad left when I was a little kid -- I don't even remember him. He left my mom and me with nothing, no child support, not even a birthday or Christmas card -- ever. No phone calls at holidays, nothing.
I am 18 now, and I have had to learn how to become a man on my own, with no help from my so-called father. My mom and grandma have always been there for me; no matter what stupid thing I do, they're always there. I respect them for that, but my dad, I couldn't care less about him.
The one and only thing I learned from my father was that I will be there for my children no matter how hard it gets. I will be the man that my father couldn't be.
-- Shawn Kessler, Novato
* * *
At 14, two things were very important to me -- treating my zits and doing everything my gang did. They smoked so I smoked, but never at home. My mother would be angry and wash my mouth in soap if she found out.
One day dad suggested I accompany him to his new office in the heart of Chicago. Greeting us on entrance were about 45 women typists busily tapping the typewriter keys.
Dad's office was lovely with a view of the city from one set of windows. The other windows looked at the typists, but they could not see us. It was so easy to see it they were doing their jobs
"Enid," my dad asked, "could you tell me which of those typists smoke cigarettes?"
Oh no, I thought, he knew all the time. Now what happens? Acting cool, I said, "Of course not, daddy. They cannot smoke in the office!"
"Let me show you. Look at their foreheads and around their eyes and chin. Mary smokes. See those lines? Jeanette does not. See how smoother her forehead is? Keep on looking while I do some business and then tell me what you see."
After about an hour, I, too, was able to guess and dad said I was correct. Never again did I touch cigarettes. I shared with my gang and many of them did the same.
-- Enid Pott, San Rafael
* * *
A field of poppies, aglow in the afternoon sun, illustrated my dad's most important lifelong lesson.
"Dad, how do you know when you're doing the right thing?"
I had begun to discover that most of the lists of rights and wrongs I'd learned got fuzzy around the edges. If my dad asked me to say I was a year younger to get into the movies for less, should I honor him? If my friend asked, "Do I look fat in this dress?" is it OK to lie to be kind?
He replied, "Ask yourself this, 'If everyone did what I am about to do, would it make a world that I want to live in?'"
Out hiking with an eighth-grade classmate, we came upon a hillside brilliant with California poppies. I longed to pick some. (I didn't yet know that it was illegal.) I asked myself my father's question and knew what to do. If everyone picked a few poppies, they'd soon be gone and there would be none to go to seed and no golden field of poppies next year. We walked on empty-handed.
It's 50 years later, Dad. Thanks for the moral compass.
-- Anne M. Lieberman, San Rafael
(c) 2012 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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