Dreams of my father

My father graduated from Brown University just 90 years this week. My nephew Alex will graduate from Brown Sunday. By my count he will be the ninth in our family to graduate since my father paved the way. (I include Alex and his Aunt Diane, although their connection is mostly through me.)

Recently we had a wonderful visit with my sister Deb. She reminded me of some warm, loving things my dad used to do for Jonathan, Deborah, and me. He used to make up stories like “Sinbad the Sailor” to tell us at bedtime. He would take us for rides in the car, and we would take turns choosing the route. We called this “Getting Lost.” He would take us into New York to see the Yankees.

A few years ago, my cousin Bonnie shared with me a note my dad sent to her when she was young. Bonnie had found the Aficomin, (This is the middle piece of the three matzoh on the table as part of the Passover Seder. It is hidden after the ceremony, and the little children search for it. The one who finds it is rewarded with a small gift.)

These reminders of my Dad have been very healing to me. There was a time when things I had done hurt him and disappointed him. I wish I had humbled myself and begged him to forgive me before he passed away. But since I didn’t, my own guilt and shame had kept me from appreciating what a good father, and a good man he really was.

Maybe because I’ve been thinking more about him lately, I had a dream about him last night. In my dream, I overheard someone use the term “gelt” in a conversation. “Gelt” is Yiddish for “money.” The most common usage nowadays is “Hanukah gelt,” chocolate coins given to the children when the Hanukah Menorah candles are lit.

So the term usually has a gentle, positive, loving connotation. but not for the man in my dream. He spoke the word bitterly, sarcastically, and hatefully. He was perpetrating an old anti-semitic slur: The idea that successful Jews were “shysters” who came by their “gelt” dishonestly.

So I challenged the man in my dream. I said, “My father was a Jewish man who had some material success in life. But he was a man of integrity, and he earned every penny honestly. He is remembered today not for his material success, but for his outstanding achievements as a husband and father.” And for some reason, the one example of this I gave in my dream was inspiring so many in his family to go to Brown.

So this is more than forty years late, but thank you, Dad. I’m sorry for the things I did that hurt you back then, and for not recognizing what a good father you really were to me.

In love, gratitude, and respect,

Matthew

My parents Beatrice and Ralph with my sister Deb, brother Jonathan, and me on my dad’s lap
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