When I was thirteen, I returned home one night from a record hop to discover there had been a power failure throughout our neighborhood. My whole house was pitch black…except for my dad’s study, where he normally loved to sit and chart the ups and downs of our world’s commodities – slowly by hand – into a large chart book.
This was in the 1970’s – a time long before computers, when financial advisors were called “stock brokers,” and they tracked their trades with handwritten charts.
I was curious about how and why this one room in our house was illuminated. I stood on my tippy toes and peered into the window of my dad’s office. There my dad sat, his commodities chart book sprawled open on his desk- and dozens of lit Hanukah candles were lined up in a circle around his work, his body poised in hypnotic concentration.
I chuckled – but I was not surprised to see my dad had figured out a candle-lit way to stay hard at work, even in the midst of a neighborhood power failure. My dad often labored into the lateness of night. It made sense to me that even in the middle of a power outage, my father’s unremitting passion for his work could not be dimmed an iota.
I confess I inherited my dad’s passion for work – although I chose a very different career for myself. I now often set my alarm to go off at 5am so I can sit in the silence of our home and work on a new book or new online webinar.
I didn’t start out doing what I loved for a living. I began my career in advertising – winning a CLIO my first 6 months in the business – then rising up to Senior VP in my late twenties. But I wasn’t happy with my job choice. I didn’t want to write ads which inspired people to buy a new, improved toothpaste. I wanted to write books which inspired people to think and act in new, improved ways.
And so in my late twenties I quit advertising to be an author. I thank my dad for teaching me to prioritize the size of my career passions over the size of my career paycheck.
Thanks to my dad I grew up believing that you need to love what you do for a living – and now I’m sharing this core belief with my son.
I wish I could introduce my son to my father – but my father’s been gone for a long time now. He passed away at 77 – when I was in my forties.
My father sadly (make that tragically) endured a devastating memory problem for over a decade.
It was noticed slowly – in stages.
My dad forgot where he put the car keys.
My dad forgot where he parked the car.
My dad forgot which car he presently owned.
My dad forgot where he was going while driving the car.
Soon after there was a secondary diagnosis: Leukemia.
At first all this was very hard to believe – until my father began losing inordinate amounts of weight. It seemed that my dad had lost his appetite along with his memory. Whereas my father used to resemble Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, he was now starting to look more and more like Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond.
He was brought to Lenox Hill Hospital for a round of tests – and told he needed to stay – for a while.
When I last saw my father, I was not a mom yet. I did have a boyfriend at the time, who my father smiled at a lot – but I was never sure if my dad remembered who my boyfriend was.
I remember once my boyfriend and I visited my dad in the hospital. My dad sat up in bed, seemingly alert, but looking strangely tiny.
My dad was never much of a talker, but in the last six months before the end of his life, he’d become practically mute. And whenever he did talk, his voice was a soft, raspy whisper.
“Hi dad,” I greeted him one day at the hospital – trying to sound cheery. “I’m back – visiting you with Greg again.” I motioned to my boyfriend – hoping to prompt my dad’s memory.
“Where am I?” my dad whispered, looking around the hospital room. “Which hotel?”
“You’re in the hospital,” I corrected him.
“When can I go home to Hilgrove Lane?“ he asked.
This was the address of our childhood home.
“Dad, you and mom moved out of that house a few years ago,” I corrected him.
“I loved that home,” my dad said. “It has so many happy memories – of when you were a kid.” He smiled at me – then looked at my boyfriend. “Karen was such a sweet, good little girl,” my dad told him.
I smiled. I loved that although my father had been stripped of his memory, he had not been stripped of his essence. My father was the epitome of kindness. Always. Throughout my childhood, my father rarely lost his temper. He was always patient and empathic and generous of heart. Later at his funeral this was the repeated refrain in all of the eulogies given.
The nurses at the hospital who only knew my father in this diluted form also shared with me the strength of my father’s kindness. Each and every nurse commented consistently about what a sweet man my father was.
And he was.
My father loved books on positive thinking. He shared with me his philosophies on positivity from the books he read. When my dad passed away, my mom gave me one of his books called, “The Magic of Believing.” This book was written in 1948 – and was a version of “The Secret” – but ahead of its time.
When I cracked open the book, I saw there were many underlinings and notes my dad had made. The underlinings and notes made me cry – because I realized this was a way my dad could continue to speak to me…after he was gone. It was his way of saying, “Look at this paragraph, Karen – oh and – here’s a sentence I want you to keep in mind.”
I will give the book (with its talkative underlinings) to my son when he is old enough to read and understand it – and this book will be a way for my dad to communicate to my son – and my son to get to know his grand pop.
Since 2010 from now on August 27th marks both the day of my dad’s passing – and the day of my son’s arrival.
I sometimes wonder: Was my son’s August 27th arrival a “wink” from my dad.
I’m not very “woo woo” about things like spirits visiting us. I’m more of a single woo. I’m open to believing that this is possible – but still not fully convinced.
But I’m writing this essay today because I recently received another wink from the universe.
I was walking down the street with my son – and saw an older man – in his seventies – who looked like my dad. My heart stopped for a moment –because the similarities were so strong.
This older gentleman made eye contact with me – then looked at my son and smiled. “What a sweet and handsome son you have,” he said.
“Um, thanks,” I said – happy for the opportunity to stare at this man further. It was uncanny the resemblance he shared with my dad.
As mentioned, I’m not “woo woo” about things like spirits visiting us. I’m more of a single woo. But I gotta say, I felt strangely moved by this brief encounter –like it was a wink from my dad.
And so I am writing this essay today – as a tribute to my dad- and as a wink right back.
I know my son would have loved his grandfather – if he had met him.
And I know you all would have loved him too.
Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.