Joy’s tribute to her father, Ben.
Not to be outdone by my quirky, but lovable mother, Ben was a character unto himself. How I grew up halfway sane (debatable by some) is a miracle! Ben was the Jewish mother that Muriel was not. He hovered, obsessed, worried enough for two, and was always fast forwarding his age. He wasn’t ashamed of the actual number, but actually relished in telling everyone how old he was, that he had worked since the time he was 16 and that he would be retiring at 65.
His life was very different from that of Muriel, coming from an Orthodox Jewish family that spoke only Yiddish in the house, immigrants who had come from either Austria or Poland. No one’s quite sure and one census said one country, another a different one. Regardless, you get the picture. An upper west side Jew from Riverside Drive he was not! He was, however very handsome and had a great physique having lifted barbells in the house every morning over his head.They must have weighed 200 lbs, or at least that’s the way I remembered them. Jack LaLane was very popular at this time and the concept of regular exercise was new and not practiced by everyone.
Ben’s father Morris worked for Jack, Muriel’s father as a piece goods cutter. My grandfather on my mother’s side had a clothing company and actually made uniforms for New York’s police as well. In his day he was a businessman who provided his family with a comfortable lifestyle. Morris having a playboy son (not married until almost 40!) and Muriel not being married at almost 34 saw a potential match and so the two were introduced to each other. According to Muriel, she didn’t like him very much and thought he was very cocky. Nevertheless, they did in fact fall in love and marry in 1948, a marriage that would be one of the good ones. Mutual respect for each other, a quiet togetherness, enjoyment of each other’s company.
My grandmother wanted grandchildren so after suggesting to my mother that she was selfish for not wanting to have them, Muriel succumbed to the idea. What 1950’s wife didn’t want children? Highly unusual indeed!
Ben was a worry wart from the moment I was born. He was always tightening the caps on medicine bottles certain I would take an overdose out of curiosity and die. He wouldn’t let me pet dogs and the thought of having one was totally out of the question. He watched me like a hawk and in later life was the worrisome parent who stayed up to make sure I got home safely, while my mother went to sleep oblivious to the hour I might return home. As I said, he was the Jewish mother I didn’t have.
The anxiety I later had in life, about literally everything came from papa. If there was the slightest possibility that something could go wrong, I thought of it. If someone was late, they were most definitely hit by a car on their way home. If I saw a spot on my arm, it was most likely cancerous, and my happy exterior belied a person filled with neuroses and idiosyncrasies. I was raised in a state of constant worrying. We are who we are because we are by products of the people that are closest to us.
My father would have benefited greatly from the drugs they have today, that have helped people live more balanced lives. I loved him dearly and miss him very much. With all his nuttiness and crazy thoughts, he was strong and smart and always there to lean on. The confident, albeit neurotic woman I became was largely due to the warm nurturing upbringing he gave me.
We could all do with a little Lexapro!
. We are the first role models our children have. Our behavior affects them greatly.
. Now that we have drugs which improve the quality of people’s lives, accept them. Be it depression or anxiety, no one needs to live with the constant stress and tension of life the way they used to. The labelling of these often crippling disorders can be lessened.
Enjoy the ride!
xox, Barclay and Joy