Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
BECOMING A FATHER
When there’s no role model, how does a man decide what kind of father he’d like to be, and actually become that?
We learn by imitation. I love setting a formal table with porcelain and sterling, and making eating into dining. My mother did that and I learned both by watching, and then doing. She praised me for my work, and I then began to emulate her creative displays of food. How she nurtured my baby sister I practiced with my dolls, and eventually was automatic with my own children. She was always home after school to either listen or disappear into the kitchen if she sensed I just needed alone time; I did the same as a mother. So with these couple of examples, I wonder about my dad.
He was five when his father died at age 41; he had two older brothers and a sister, and one baby brother. Having had two sons of my own, plus a daughter, my boys learned to shave by watching my husband, to throw a baseball from his instruction, even to ride a bicycle with him holding the handlebars. My dad, I later learned, never had a bicycle nor played baseball, but who taught him to shave? Who told him about relationships? Who showed him how to form a necktie?
My dad had to be annoyed when, riding in the car’s front seat, I continually changed radio stations whenever a commercial went on; he allowed me to annoy. I wanted to surprise him and wash his car on our driveway that had a gravel center section, common in my childhood days. I climbed on the hood to get to the top and gravel, caught on my feet, scratched the car; he thanked me for the surprise and didn’t show me any upset about the scratches. I only had to mention, almost in passing, that I wanted Crane stationery, in yellow, to find it a few days later. When he took me shopping for a dress, he seemed to just know what I liked and in the color that made me feel extra pretty. No matter how difficult or long-hours any of his days were, he stayed up to pick me up late in the evening after a club meeting or a dance, and he drove all of my friends home waiting until each was safely inside the house before driving away. Who taught him these things?
During my dating years, I’d decide at midnight that the boy had such a very long trip back to The Bronx or Brooklyn from our Long Island house, that my father then drove the boy home. I went to sleep. I didn’t think of the long drive my father had, 30 miles each way, to Brooklyn and that he might be tired; he never complained.
Every interest was encouraged; every talent was enriched; every dream could be revealed and neither he nor my mom thought any dream was silly.
He was active in the community. He helped out during World War II, when the draft rejected him because he had an active thrombophlebitis when called for his physical, by becoming a street air-raid warden. He was a founder of the synagogue we belonged to, and rose to president of it giving dignified speeches and identifying with all the congregants. He silently helped his brothers and a brother-in-law, financially, not wanting recognition or praise. Once again, who showed him this side of manhood so he could copy it?
Honesty and fairness were automatic; so was caring and tenderness. What I saw as a husband to my mother was love, affection, understanding, encouragement, a gentle man, a quiet provider. But he never saw a man in the role of husband, so where did he learn to behave this way?
It’s taken me getting old to be able to answer the question that’s rambled in my head for so many decades: how did he learn to be a father when he had none growing up? I now believe he became the kind he would have liked as his own role model had his dad lived past age 41. What his head imagined was what he developed for his daughters.
©2008 The Jewish Press