I once informed my father that he was a smart-ass. He responded without hesitation that it was better than being a dumb-ass. That was my dad all over: he rarely spoke more than a word or two, but they were always well-chosen when he spoke them.
My dad was a hard man to know. He grew up a sensitive boy in a setting that didn’t particularly have use for sensitivity in boys, and so he covered that up with a deadpan exterior. But he was also a naturally cheerful person, who loved people and wanted to make them happy. So he would go through his day, smiling and singing silly old songs from the Jack Benny show and enduring whatever the world threw at him, just to come home and take out his aggressions on the pots and pans in the kitchen — which, being inanimate objects, had no feelings to hurt.
At least, I think that’s the way it was. As I say, he was a hard man to know. Asking him a serious question was the quickest way to get a silly answer.
I mentioned endurance, and that’s important. If there was one thing my dad could do, besides making wisecracks, it was to endure. He endured going to war away from his family. He endured lackluster jobs that wrought havoc on his body because it would put food on the table. Certainly for me he endured the tedious chore of driving myself and my friends all over the place. He endured all of these things because he loved the people he was enduring them for. He could do anything, as long as he was doing it for somebody.
In the last years of his life, he found himself quite unaccustomedly in the position of being the one that other people were doing things for, and I know that had to be hard on him. He wanted to be the provider, the rock, the steady guy who takes care of everyone. Not too long ago he complained to me that Mom was spending entirely too much money on care for him. I told him, “She loves you, Dad, let her spend it on you. What else is she going to do with it?” He didn’t have an answer for that.
The other thing that happened, as his faculties began to fail him, was that the deadpan shell began to crack, showing the deep current of emotions that had always lurked underneath. Those of you who were present a few months ago for the funeral of his sister, my Aunt Iris, had occasion to witness this firsthand. She meant the world to him, and her loss was profound. But at the same time, it brought forth from my dad one of the truest, most straightforward things I ever heard him say in my entire life, and I think it would be one of the best things you could remember about him. In what I believe he meant as a good-bye to a family he knew he was not likely to see again, he said, “I love you all, damned if I don’t!”
And he did. And we love you too, dad.