I’ve now met my fifth grandchild. My father never met his first. Dying at the age of 60 in 1970 he missed most of my life and my sister’s. This was somewhat atypical for West 83rd Street.
My memories of my father include the firehouse, the fire dispatchers’ office in Central Park, building a bed for my sister, baseball in Riverside Park, and getting yelled at. Of course, there are other things I remember but these were the big ones.
The Saturday morning baseball games with other boys from 222 and their dads took place in Riverside Park between 82nd and 83rd Streets in a stand of four trees in the shape of a baseball diamond. I think then trees were London Plain. It was a spring and fall affair, fathers and sons. I recall it as fun. West Side kids in a West Side Park with their West Side dads.
Since my father didn’t believe in corporal punishment he used his voice to express his dissatisfaction with my behavior along with, in the teen years, grounding and withholding of allowance. It’s the voice that sticks with me and unfortunately for many years it was the voice I replicated in my own house.
Dad certainly had things in his life to be angry about: his mother died when he was born and his father soon ran off leaving him to be raised by a maiden aunt, my great aunt Betty. She also lived on the West Side in the 80s and later in the Hotel Breton Hall on the east side of Broadway between 85th and 86th Streets. And, he lost an eye as a child. I never knew what the disease was but it was a medical matter not other trauma. He had a glass eye and a spare. I only saw him once without it, when he was failing and coughed so hard it came out.
I have my own issues. Mom had TB when I was an infant and we were kept apart. It wasn’t until my thirties that I put this together with my abandonment and attachment issues. I don’t remember her and I ever being particularly close.
Images of my parents always include a glass and a cigarette. Both smoked and drank. The alcohol caught up with my dad in the 1960s. He lost his job due to alcohol and later his life to the combination of the effects of smoking and drinking.
Yes, I am the child of two Jewish alcoholics. I believe that I suffer from COPD because I smoked from 13 to 33 and lived my childhood with second-hand smoke and being allowed to puff their cigarettes. I also know I couldn’t drink brown liquors like scotch because they did.
In spite of all this, they gave me a solid Jewish education and a good value system both of which I’ve been allowed to share with my children and hopefully my grandchildren.