LB: Dave Stepen is the brains behind the GIRLilla Warfare blog. He is the designer, and the guy who presses PUBLISH when I give him the “All Yours” sign. He is also a family man — a wonderful father of two kids. Today he shares heartwarming thoughts about his relationship with his Dad.
ALL YOURS, Dave – Happy Father’s Day!
By Dave Stepen
I personally find it odd that we follow a hallmark calendar and dedicate a single day to honor our patriarchs. Whenever I speak to my religious friends in Israel, both Jewish and Christian on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, they always remind me that EVERY DAY in Israel is Mother’s or Father’s Day. I guess a subtle reminder to Honor Thy Father and Mother.
That said, I personally do honor my dad in many ways. First with respect; not only the way I talk to him, but since my mother’s passing away, with how I care for him. Primarily his dignity is always kept upfront with my constant eye on some of his geriatric shortcomings. He was once an Electrical Engineer who could take apart anything electrical/mechanical, then put it back together (without too many spare parts), is now finding himself repeating himself at times, getting lost on common routes, forgetting appointments, dates and occasionally when to take his medication. He laughs it off and says – “This is what happens when you get to my age, Davey-Boy.”
My dad, once an avid bowler, softball player, and kid-chaser, now limps with a prosthetic titanium knee and hip.
My dad worked 43 years for the same company (who does that anymore?), a company that provided for his family for all those years (and him with a pension/proper retirement plan). Now in retirement, he says, “Every day is like Sunday” to his children with a chuckle. Though his chuckle is sincere and happy, mine echoes his in a bittersweet laugh, as it reminds me of him slowing WAY down and even more so his mortality.
He has all the time in the world, and now I don’t. I am rebuilding a business, providing for a family, being a dad myself, a husband, as well as many other titles that go with a full life – yet there never seems to be enough time for my Dad. And as I write this it pains me. Have I stooped to the “Cat’s in the Cradle” song – Damn it, if I haven’t!!
It’s not that he would put pressure on me to do the right thing – he has his routine, which seems to be centered around his meals at the regular Kappy’s or Sanders (his local early-birds favorite restaurants). He is low maintenance, easy going, and just goes with the flow.
My Dad is MY HERO. He taught me how to be a man and a father!
What I didn’t learn from my dad is a very short list. He didn’t teach me how to shoot a gun, how to fish, how to go camping, how to drink a beer without making “that face” from the bitterness. He never taught me how to win at blackjack or craps, he never taught me how to ski, and he certainly never taught me how to roller skate (an inside joke for the family – as he broke his leg at age 40 roller-skating circa 1976 – mind you just weeks before my brother’s bar-mitzvah).
Here is what my dad taught me. He taught me more clichés than I can remember, but they come up all the time, at the disdain of my children. He showed me how to respect others, hold the door open for others, and always ask about others first before rambling on selfishly.
He gave me a strong foundation of Judaism, showed me through actions how to conduct myself within my community – he led by example. He never expected me to go to Synagogue, if he wasn’t willing to go himself (so we went every Shabbat). He provided for the family silently, without thanks, AND when he bought his weekly challahs (bread) for Shabbat, he also bought extras for a less fortunate family in the neighborhood. Never once did he mention it to us. We just saw it, were silently proud, and never mentioned it to anyone to protect the feelings of the less fortunate family. I didn’t learn that innately, I learned that from my parents, I learned that from my dad.
My dad was a story teller, he could tell you a story over and over (even before his failing memory) and keep a captive audience with ease. This probably contributed to his career in sales. I learned this from him as well, though my stories seem to flow more from behind a typewriter or keyboard, than orally.
My dad was always welcomed everywhere we went. It was like he had no enemies. I am no saint, there are people who would not welcome me in their home today for some of the things I have done in my distant past, or snippy comments I may have made over the years (as nice and easy going as I think I am, I am not even in my father’s league). How did he do this? He was just a pleasant person. That is my lesson – don’t make waves, don’t be a big mouth, just behave, and treat people how you wish to be treated – with respect. I am not sure he even ever said these words, it’s just how he carried himself.
Everyone seems to recognize him and greet him with a “HEY HARV!! How are ya?” to which you will always get the same reply “Shleppin’ along, that is why they call me Shleppin’ Stepen” – I am sure when I am 70+ (if I am so lucky) I will use that line as well. And what is the lesson here? Have a tagline; it makes for good warm welcoming smiles. (That’s the marketing guy in me talkin’ now).
Wise Old Harvey, as my Spanish friend from Madrid so eloquently refers to my dad, possesses what some call “the touch” – he has an innate ability to smooth over any argument. I can recall in high school when a classmate came to my door, demanded I get out of the house, and “duke it out” on my lawn. Clearly I did something to offend this irate kid. He was Korean, a black belt, and I was going to be bloodied on my home court. He screamed like Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” – calling for my blood. Instead of STELLA, STELLA – it was STEPEN, STEPEN!!!! My dad, looked at me, rolled his eyes, and then said, Wait here in the kitchen. He went out on the patio and talked to my nemesis, who had thrown three eggs at our house. I don’t know what my father said, but by the time I came out, all that was required was for me to admit fault, apologize, and help the kid clean the mess.
This wouldn’t be the first time my dad would save my ass. I was amazed. What the hell did he say to this kid that could have diffused the bomb? I imagine he said to him things like, “I understand. I am sorry for what has happened, I can see where you are coming from, you look like a reasonable young man” – all things he taught me later in life when waxing poetic about how good salesmen are able to turn lemons into lemonade.
While I attribute a lot to my dad’s sales career and his salesmanship, I think it goes deeper. My dad really cares, really takes people to heart, really listens to people when they talk… and he ALWAYS has a tidbit of wisdom or offers advice and/or solutions to his audience. It’s in his DNA – so maybe he is just a mensch (good man) who fell into sales because he had the traits, rather than a guy who honed his people skills as a salesman. My dad wasn’t like the sales guys you see in Mad Men on TV, he is a different sort of guy… he always seems to do the next right thing, even when it seems so wrong to do so. I am sure he got his foundation from his parents, but even so, a lot of his goodness seems innate.
Maybe he got some of this foundation when he studied at the Hebrew Theological College (aka The Yeshiva)… but if there was ever a source of pride in his own personal history, it was his 18 months stint of service in the US Army.
In our family nothing could be further from a Jewish lifestyle than going into the Army. Guns? Tents? Hiking? Fighting? Marching? – OUCH that sounds like a lot of pain (not to sound like a wimpy Woody Allen). My wife doesn’t even like it when our son plays war-type games on X-Box.
If one bar-graphed a chart of the stories my dad tells on a regular basis, the first bar would be 75% Army and then the rest would pale in comparison. It is quite common for him to begin sentences with “When I was in the Army…” – and I used to stop him and say “Dad, I have heard this one a million times” – but today, I don’t stop him, I let him tell it over and over again. He won’t be around forever, so now I relish all the stories – Army, Yeshivah, West Side of Chicago, 18th and Drake, Maxwell Street, I even listen to his horror stories of the 1969 Cubs or 1959 White Sox. He didn’t teach me how to play baseball, but he certainly taught me to appreciate the history and the players! While his short-term memory is not so great, he can damn near tell you every single player in the MLB from 1906 – 1976.
So on this Father’s Day Weekend, I share one constant my dad teaches me on a regular basis – as long as you have your health and your family, you have everything — so simple, so short – and yet so elusive to so many people (including myself at times).
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads, Grandfathers, Great Grandfathers… It’s your day to be honored! Fatherhood can be thankless at times… so I thank ALL the fathers who have impacted my personal life – even beyond my own dad…
Don’t kid yourself though Dad, you are my best role model, and I love you dearly!
P.S. Dad, since you don’t use the Internet anymore, I will print this out for you and let you read it Old School!< back