Friday, November 28, 2008

My Dad

Almost a year ago, on my dad’s birthday, I posted about my father, Anything But Typical [There you will find interesting stories of how we were raised. This post is more about personality.]. I didn't dream last year that he, even with his cancer, would be dead less than a year later. And he was definitely not typical.
First of all, my Dad was a person of integrity. And he expected no less of us his children, and of his students. For many years he was a teacher (professor) of Organic Chemistry (at Western Illinois University). He must have been an impressive teacher, because any college student from WIU who heard that I was the “faculty brat” daughter of Professor Shelton was likely to look at me in awe. I know that some of his students were pre-med, and my Dad explained to me once why he would flunk any student caught cheating on a chemistry exam: “I don’t want a doctor in twenty years who cheated in school.” And honesty and integrity were the bread-and-butter we grew up on. Once (in my hippie-ish days) I bought some posters in a store, but was lacking 10cents. I told the seller I would bring the money in next time I came, and since it was a buy of a few items, he agreed. Well, the next day I arrived with the money, and the owner called me “honest Abe”. He had never expected me to pay the small debt. I was amazed at his amazement. To me it was self-understood that you pay what you owe, and you do what you promise.
My Dad attracted attention, with his tall stature, and straight bearing. But he didn’t run after the limelight. He was not the “look at me” type of person. He was quiet and thoughtful generally, not the loud, attention-seeking person. He also had a sense of humor. Again, not the raucous guffaws, but a more refined chuckle over the ironies in life or the nature of man.
Most notable about my father, however, was that he encouraged us to excel only by radiating his confidence in us. Once I received a “D” on a midterm in physics, a fact I had concealed from him, knowing that he would be disappointed. The night before the final I “hit the books”, and while studying, he happened to enter the room. He looked over my shoulder, saw the mark, but said nothing. No “how disappointed”. No recriminations. (I Aced the test, thus getting a B for the course.) However, we understood implicitly that he expected of us to do our best. Also he never played the “comparison game”. My elder brother is much more intelligent then I am. I was never given the feeling that I must get straight A’s like he did, or that I was a less valuable human being.
Now all of the above does not mean that my father and I saw eye-to-eye. He was an affirmed atheist, while I definitely am not. And his ethical integrity led him to positions that I do not agree with. But he was not the “believe like me” type of personality. He accepted my many differences from what his dreams for me probably were with composure and equanimity.

And how do I best remember him? Standing in front of the fireplace of our childhood home, a glass of dry wine in hand, and Bruegel’s “hunters in the snow” behind him.
So, as you see, he was anything but typical.


Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

Sounds like he was a great Dad. Those are great characteristics, the honesty, and not showing favor between children, and not making you feel bad on how you did on tests.

I see so many of these characteristics in you too!

rutimizrachi said...

A prince among men. You were very lucky to have him... but we know that Hashem doesn't operate with luck. May your life, and the lives of your dear children, continue to elevate and delight him. (I suspect that he finally understands that in at least some of your differences of opinion, you were the one who was correct.)

Belinda said...

Dear Rickismom,
My heartfelt condolensces on the loss of your father. Thank you for describing him for us. I loved reading about who he was.

It must have been so hard not to be able to be at the funeral.