My father as a young man in the army.

In honor of my dad’s birthday tomorrow, I want to write something about him. Very few of my relatives are aware of what I am sharing today about my father . . .

My husband was very close to his paternal grandmother. His father was not willing to address Michael’s severe, learning disability, but his grandmother was very supportive of him. Long before it was considered a significant form of therapy, my husband was given horseback riding lessons – paid for by his grandmother.

While I was dating my husband, we went together once to see his grandmother in a hospital. She was very elegant and articulate; she spoke perfect English. I remember being very amazed at how different she was from both of my grandmothers.

Both of my grandmothers were from Russia, and I could not understand their English. They were immigrants and had endured very, hard lives. My maternal grandmother’s name was Anna. She was very loving and warm; I didn’t understand her “Yiddish” language, but she always slipped me coins. She would grip my hand tightly, and put something in it. Then she would put her forefinger to her mouth in a gesture indicating: do not share this with your mother! My mother knew, but pretended she didn’t see it. Just picturing this again is very sweet and endearing for me.

Anna Zerner – My maternal grandmother

My paternal grandmother was very different from my maternal grandmother.

Her name was Miriam. She barely escaped from the Russian Cossacks during a pogrom. A pogrom is defined as, “A massacre, or ethnic cleansing.” The story I was told is that she had to leap over a fence that was “taller than her,” and hide while being chased. She eventually came to the United States on a boat with her husband.

She arrived in New York and worked long hours in a grocery. I never met my grandfather. My paternal grandfather died from Multiple Sclerosis before my parents were married.

My father and his mother, Miriam. On this day, he received his Ed.D in education.

My father was an only child. He grew up very isolated and lonely; his parents were working all the time.

My father is a hoarder. I have wondered if that was based on his background of growing up during the Great Depression. My mother was very, very poor. However, she does not hoard. She has suffered greatly due to my father’s disorder.

My parents in a photo taken in 2006. So much has changed since then.

Despite growing up with significantly more financial stability than my mother, my dad could not discard anything. My belief is that hoarding was a replacement for the lack of attention he received while growing up.

My father has always been impatient with my children; he still is. He shows his affection by constantly trying to teach them mathematical facts! He loves to tutor, and has had a significant impact upon my oldest son. I could not handle my father teaching me anything. My daughter won’t allow my father to tutor her.

While I was growing up, my father was a different person. He had a lot of energy, and he smiled more.

I haven’t seen my dad smile like this in a very long time.

Who is this man?

I saw my father in a different light after my son, Jason died.

My father never paid much attention to Jason. He did take a lot of videos at family events; because that was the role he played. However, I didn’t see him extend any affection toward Jason. Jason died before he was old enough for my father to teach him algebra.

However, my dad was always there. He was there when Jason was born, and he was there with my mother when she was helping me through those difficult, five years of Jason’s life.

My father with Jason and my mother with my nephew, Sean.

A rare picture of my father with Jason.

My father came in with my husband and I to say goodbye to Jason when he was dead. He spent time alone with Jason’s cold body.

It was after Jason died that I realized how deep my father’s pain was.

Someday, I will write an essay on the excruciating grief that grandparents face when they’ve lost a grandchild.

For my mother, a lot of the pain she expressed was not so much her own grief, but that of seeing her beloved daughter’s (me) grief and agony.

My dad was different. He was suffering with his own grief. He frequently sobbed openly.

I would hear his car drive up. He would be in my driveway a long time. Finally, I’d go outside to check. There he was. Sitting in the car with his head draped over the steering wheel. He was a grown man and he was crying so loudly that I could hear his sobs from my front door.

His most often repeated lament was this: “I’ll never have the chance to teach Jason algebra!”

My mother told me something during that time.

She had found out only then something that my father had never shared before!

My father confided in her. He was not an only child. He had a brother that died before he was born.

My father used to take me to visit his mother. It was very interesting to watch their “mother/son” dynamic. They would not speak to each other at all. My father would doze in a chair while she watched TV.

His mother, Miriam, was quite morose. The best way to describe her was to say she never smiled. I knew this woman had a very hard life. But so had my other grandmother, and she smiled all the time.

Miriam wasn’t warm to me. But she wasn’t mean either. She just had sharpness, and I imagined that it wasn’t easy for my mom having her as her mother-in-law.

When my parents lived with me, my husband said, “You feel this obligation to take your parents in. However, your parents didn’t take their parents in to live with them!”

That was true. My parents didn’t have any room, though. However, I’m sure if Miriam had lived with my parents, my mother would have had a tough time of it.

One day, I was alone with Miriam. My father went somewhere – I don’t remember where; but it was just the two of us. Miriam said, “You know, Leo, was just a young boy when he enlisted in the army. He was seventeen years old; he was a baby!”

I perked up – I wanted to know more about my father’s war experiences. She continued by saying, “He was very traumatized by what he saw. He saw everything! He was there when the concentration camps were liberated. He was not prepared for the carnage, because he was very innocent. He will never speak of it. When he returned he refused to discuss it. But it happened! He saw things that no one could ever imagine; they were so horrible!”

Was she telling me something that wasn’t true?

I doubt it.

I asked my father about it.

He said, “I never saw much action. I just walked at the front lines toward the end of the war.”

I have often heard from my mom that my dad was in the infantry. She explained that it was the reason why he hates to walk. My father used to drive and circle a parking lot ten times in order to find the closest parking space. My husband has gotten angry with my dad because he has tried to help our children avoid walking. Michael has explained to my father, “Walking is healthy – it is not something to avoid, Lee!”

My mother and I know that my father will not watch any movie or see anything on television that’s related to the Holocaust. He runs from the room immediately.

Did my dad really experience what my grandmother mentioned to me that day? I have asked him so many times.

Some day, will he tell me the truth?

I doubt it.

Something my oldest son wrote for a school assignment in 2004.

November 18, 2004

My greatest influence in my life is my grandpa. He always pushes me forward. He is very smart. He has a quote that I like very much. “Life’s a battle.”

I think that this quote means you must try hard to make a difference in life. He is very intelligent. He was a math professor and a history teacher. I don’t think he understands the difference he has made in my life.

My father is still driven to help my son. It has become his existence.

© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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1 Response to MY FATHER

  1. Steve says:

    I had somehow missed this blog entry when it was posted a couple of days ago. It was interesting. I would tend to believe what Miriam said to you about what your Dad experienced in WWII. Enjoyed the pictures too!


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