Dads revolutionize the diaper bag


“What’s in your pants?”

That’s the motto of Freedom Pants, the first pair of pants designed to replace a diaper bag. And on Nov. 14, James Kadonoff, founder and CEO of Man vs Baby (a media platform catering specifically to dads), asked Daymond John, a judge from the ABC entrepreneurial business show “Shark Tank,” that exact question. 

Kadonoff was pitching his daddy pants — which come complete with pouches for a smartphone and a pacifier — during a “Good Morning America” segment. In a mock scenario, he was up against The Undress, a dress that gives women-on-the-go the ability to change wardrobes in public settings and that was ultimately declared the winner by the “Shark Tank” judge.

“I mean, you have beautiful women dressing and undressing on stage — how do you compete with that?” a lighthearted Kadonoff told the Journal. “The particular Shark we met, which was Daymond John, was not a father, and he came up to me after [the segment] and said, ‘Great pants, but you know, my girlfriend wants a baby, but I don’t — so your pants are like kryptonite.’ ”

After the show aired, Kadonoff said he received an email from “Shark Tank” producers, asking him to participate in the show’s seventh season, which will broadcast next year, giving him a chance at real funding. 

What’s the big deal with these particular pants anyway? To the untrained eye, they might just look like a typical pair of military-grade cargo pants. But Freedom Pants mean business for men with babies who desperately want to shed their diaper bags. The pants come with adjustable utility pouches for diapers and wipes, thermal insulated removable liners, Velcro straps to secure removable pouches, a changing pad, a sunglass pouch, a smartphone pouch and, yes, even a Binky pouch.

The prototype for the pants was designed by Naomi Kawanishi, owner of the fashion line Eternal Sunshine Creations and the wife of Avi Sills, co-founder and vice president of product development at Man vs Baby. It took about a year of research, development and revision before the product’s Oct. 28 unveiling via the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

Kadonoff, a father of five with a background in commercial production and advertising, first got the idea for Man vs Baby while at his neighborhood park’s jungle gym. He was out with one of his sons when he realized he didn’t have his diaper bag,

“As a generally organized father, I found myself at the park with no diaper bag and a 7-month-old with oatmeal on his face,” Kadonoff said.

Later that night, he bought the domain for ManvsBaby.com, and eventually he recruited a team of like-minded fathers to help propel his idea forward. Among them were Sills, a father of three, and advisory board members Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Sills, the son of a rabbi, is Kadonoff’s neighbor in Santa Monica and a percussionist at numerous local temples.

To describe their website, Sills said that Man vs Baby is Funny Or Die meets BuzzFeed meets Parenting.com. Think of it as a digital man-cave, a virtual refuge for dads, stocked with blogs, videos and products.

Kadonoff said Man vs Baby aims to disprove the popular media portrayal of fathers as “bumbling gooks who don’t know what’s going on.” Eventually, he and his team hope to inspire other brands to direct their products to fathers.

“This is a media platform with a twist,” said Sills. “And the twist is the introduction of Freedom Pants.

“Usually one of the first presents at a baby shower is a frilly, girly diaper bag, which becomes your diaper bag for a while,” Sills said from personal experience.

Until of course, the father upgrades to a more masculine rendition of that forsaken bag, or invests in a pair of Freedom Pants. Or both? Kadonoff likes the idea of describing his pants as an “alternative.” 

“I hate to say it — because I know we’re trying to get people to stop buying diaper bags — but on those crazy days, when I’ve got all of those kids, I might use both [Freedom Pants and a diaper bag].” 

Freedom Pants’ Kickstarter campaign officially ended on Dec. 4. Although organizers didn’t attain their goal of $50,000, they’re determined to stride forward. They’re currently filling orders for the pants — the market price is still being discussed, but the cost is likely to be upward of $100 — working on their website and getting their products into stores, according to Sills. 

So, what’s in your pants? If these guys have their way, the answer will be a bottle of milk and a Binky.

My resilient father and the German engineer


At 85, my father is full of optimism and humor. You would never guess that at the age of sixteen he was a victim of the greatest atrocity of the 20th century. In the spring of 1944, he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. When they arrived, he was separated from his mother and two sisters. He and his father stood in line with the other men, eventually reaching SS officers who sent my father to the right and his father to the left. The next day, my father learned from a long-time prisoner that his father had surely been killed in a gas chamber.

My father was sent to a slave labor camp where he was forced to work on a railroad construction site. He spent most of his days carrying heavy steel rails up a hill, over and over again, from the first light of day until sunset.  By the end of the summer he found that it took more strength to keep going than he thought he might have. He saw his struggle to survive as a battle he was fighting with the SS. If he gave in, then the Nazis would win. He did not want to give them this victory. If he stayed alive, then he would win. He was also resolute about returning home to his family. He worried about what would happen if his mother and sisters came home and he didn’t. This concern got him up off the cold ground every morning with his mind set on making it through another day.

This ability to turn a threat into a challenge is at the heart of resilience, and research in psychology finds that one’s mental attitude in the face of adversity has a significant impact on physical and mental well being. Of course, a positive attitude was not nearly enough to survive a death camp, and many strong, resilient people perished in the Holocaust. Luck was necessary as well, and a lot of it. A helping hand was also essential. For my father, this help came from an unexpected source.

One morning during roll call an SS sergeant walked up to my father’s section and yelled, “Which one of you young inmates speaks German?” Acting purely on instinct, my father raised his hand high into the air. He followed the officer, and saw a man waiting for him in a long leather coat. He panicked. What have I gotten myself into? The man had the dark and neatly dressed look of a Gesta po officer, and my father was sure he had made a very bad decision.

The man introduced himself and said that he was a civilian engineer who needed an assistant for his work. He explained that his job was to conduct a survey for a new road through the forest, and he wanted someone to help carry the equipment. My father immediately understood that this job would be much easier than his usual daily toil.

During their second day of working together, the engineer said to my father, “I can see what a horrible situation you are in, and I want to do something to help you.” He went on to say that he couldn’t help him outright because of the SS guards, but that he could obtain some food for him. He explained that there was a barracks in the woods, where he ate his lunch with the SS officers, and where he had hidden some food in a corner, under a bench. The building would be empty in the late afternoon.

At the end of the day, as they neared the perimeter of the camp, the engineer indicated the barracks. The building was dark and empty, and my father hurried to the far corner and looked under the bench. Chicken! Rice! He took some bites of the food and put the rest in his pock ets to share with his friends in the camp.

For the two extraordinary weeks that he worked with the engineer, my father supplemented his daily intake of stale bread and watery soup with food from the SS kitchen. As the days passed, he grew sturdier. The boost to his well-being was more than physical: the fact that this German cared about him, and was willing to take great personal risks to feed him, restored some of my father’s faith in other people.

When he was a sixteen-year-old prisoner, he knew full well that being assigned to work with the engineer was a tremendous stroke of luck. But it took some time for him to realize just how pivotal a role his benefactor had played. Af ter my father was liberated and could better weigh the impact various events had had on his ability to survive, he credited him with saving his life.

On Father’s Day, I am thankful to the brave man who became a temporary father to a teenager in a desperate situation. Further, I am thankful to have such a strong, resilient father who somehow managed to emerge from that terrible darkness to live his life with generosity and love.

I have watched my father talk to audiences about his Ho locaust experiences many times. He holds up well dur ing these talks, even though the events he is speaking about are very distressing. As soon as he is done, he bounces back to his usual good humor and wants to discuss dinner plans.

In every speech my father gives, he tells the story of the civilian German engineer in the long leather coat. He speaks of the cattle cars, the cruelty of the SS officers and the murderous selections without flinching. Decades after their final walk in the forest, it is the kindness shown to him by one man that forces him to stop speaking, lower his eyes and weep.


Dr. Jill Klein earned a doctorate in social psychology from the University of Michigan and is currently a business professor at Melbourne Business School at the University of Melbourne. In We Got the Water, Dr. Klein shares her family’s harrowing experience as prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp. We Got the Water (April 2013) is available at www.amazon.com. For more information, visit www.wegotthewater.com.

What I want for Father’s Day


If you’ve never had a tooth extracted, I can assure you that it is everything you’d imagine and more, especially since I opted out of the general anesthesia that would’ve rendered me unconscious during the procedure. Turns out, I didn’t need it. You can imagine the surprise of the oral surgeon and his team of assisting nurses when my arm twitched involuntarily, exposing the fact that I’d fallen asleep in the chair while they all worked in my open mouth.

What’s worse, the offending arm twitch also woke me up. As I reluctantly drifted back to consciousness, I heard the oral surgeon ask, in amused amazement (or was it “amazed amusement?”), “Did he fall asleep?!”

It seemed this was a first for them. One of the nurses responded, “It shows how good we are.”

Not that they weren’t doing a good job (at least, I hoped they were), but I felt compelled to correct her, “Uh bwuh bwuh bwuh.”

Being fluent in the language of people who have surgical equipment in their mouths, the oral surgeon knew that translated to, “I have a 15-month-old baby at home.”

“That would explain it,” he laughed. “This must be a break for you. I love it!” Then, turning on the drill, he added, “You can go back to sleep now.”

And I did. Not really. But I do confess that, sometime later, I was actually looking forward to an ultrasound I had to have performed because I thought that it might present the opportunity to catch a few winks.

To my horror, I have become a cliché: the sleep-deprived parent.

When people found out that my wife and I were expecting our first child, they all warned us to enjoy our sleep now because soon we weren’t going to be getting any. And I mean, everybody. That was the first response of every single person we told, at least the ones with kids.

Everything they say about the effects of sleep deprivation is true. Remember, it is an accepted form of torture in many countries, none of which, to my knowledge, is cruel enough to administer it in conjunction with forced diaper changing.

Since our son, Gabriel, came to live with us, both my wife and I have experienced the phenomenon of entering a room and being unable to remember what we went in there for. We fail to find things that are right in front of us. We have a sense that there are people we should be holding grudges against, but we can’t remember who they are, or what they did.

On one occasion, I refilled the humidifier with water and turned it on, only to be baffled as to why I couldn’t get any steam to come out of the spout, no matter how high I turned up the dial. I fiddled with it for several minutes, until my wife, in a moment of clarity, suggested that I plug it into an electrical outlet.

Hopefully, none of my current employers are reading this. If they are, I can assure them that my work is the one thing that, for some reason, has not been affected at all.

Everything they say about the effects of sleep deprivation is true. Remember, it is an accepted form of torture in many countries, none of which, to my knowledge, is cruel enough to administer it in conjunction with forced diaper changing.

There is a flip slide to this coin. The truth is, I enjoy sleep now more than I ever have before; it’s just not my own. There’s no accomplishment more satisfying — at least in my life thus far — than finding the perfect combination of soothing techniques necessary to lull a crying baby to sleep in your arms. The moment is thrilling and never ceases to amaze. You cannot believe what you have just achieved, even though you witnessed it with your own eyes. And although Gabriel is always adorable — if you don’t believe me, just ask my wife; she’ll tell you — when he sleeps, he is absolutely angelic.

Who cares that we never get to the movies anymore? I can watch Gabriel (sleeping or waking) for hours on end, completely transfixed and entertained, which is lucky for me as we now attempt to wean him from breastfeeding. When he wakes at 3 or 4 in the morning, expecting to nurse, it is I who must deal with him, as there is no way for my wife to distract him from what he really wants.

As I yearn for my pillow, it would be easy for me to curse my fate, but, eventually, Gabriel will rest his head against my chest, and I’ll feel his little muscles twitch in my arms as he relaxes into slumber. And I know that, one day all too soon, these moments will be cherished amongst the most memorable and meaningful of my life.

What do I want for Father’s Day?

Sleep. Or not.


Howard March is a writer and producer in film and for television in Los Angeles.

The day you become redundant


Parenthood is ultimately about becoming redundant in your child’s life. It’s difficult to comprehend as you hold your newborn baby in your arms, but if you do your job as a parent correctly, your services will ultimately no longer be necessary.

The art and the joy of parenthood is how to raise a self-reliant child who grows to become a self-reliant adult. How do we pass on to our children the knowledge, skills, values and beliefs they will need so that the teaching will remain with them when we are no longer ever-present?

Toward this end, Jewish fathers have particular obligations. The Talmud instructs that a father is obligated to provide his son (child) with Torah, a trade and, some say, to teach him how to swim (Kiddushin 29:A). This formula is interesting, because when the Talmud makes a list, it is meant to be all-inclusive; if something else was needed, it would have been on the list. Thus, our tradition instructs that a father has three sacred obligations in raising a child.

Torah is perhaps the easiest to explain, even if it may seem the most remote to many a Jewish dad. The mindset of the rabbis of the Talmud was focused on Jewish education and the importance of Torah within that framework. Torah, in their view, was not merely knowledge and education, and it was much more than holidays, rituals and stories. Torah serves as the cornerstone of Jewish life — it is morals, ethics and values. Its focus is how to be a good person and, particularly, how to be a responsible Jew. This responsibility is not taken lightly at all; if a Jewish father could not teach his son, it was his responsibility to find his son a teacher to perform the task. What Torah will you teach your child, and how will you teach it?

Teach your child a trade? This may seem far more applicable to our lives today. The ability to support oneself, make a living, plan for the future and support your community has often been stressed in Jewish fathering. But this commandment is about more than finding a good job — it is about legacy and tradition, about knowing the value of things earned and their value in years to come. To teach a child a trade in our modern 24/7, 60-hour workweek world is to teach your child not only to work, but how to work. It is to model the importance of the work/life/family balance. The question then is not what will they do when they grow up, but rather how will they do it? What can you teach from your lifetime of working so they remember that we work in order to live, not live in order to work?

And last is swimming. This concept is perhaps the most important of all, because at its core swimming is about survival. One learns how to swim so he or she will not drown; how fitting that the rabbis entrust this small and somewhat minor task to the Jewish father. To swim, or survive, so to speak, means to have courage and perseverance to navigate the rough waters that lie ahead in life. To swim is to let go of the side of the pool and wade purposefully into the unknown and come out safely on the other side. How will you teach your child courage and perseverance?

In all the roles a Jewish father plays, there is an essential element that is constant: time. How can a father properly introduce his child to Torah, a trade, teach courage and perseverance if he is not around? All of the above seems daunting in the abstract, but when your life is the lesson, the teaching happens for good or for ill whether you are present or not. So the most important task commanded to a Jewish father is: Be present!

Even the simplest task, when done with child in tow, can reap invaluable experience. Leading by example, being a trainer for life, is not easily done in a world of busy schedules, but it can be done. The interaction between father and child during those times provides a lesson in living. It is during these moments when Torah can be passed along. It is also during these moments when a child can learn what it means to be a father and provider, who his/her father is and what priorities have been set in life. It is in all of these moments, as your child watches you live Torah and ply your trade, that they learn from your courage and perseverance, especially in the face of adversity.

If you can do these things, there will come a moment when your child will turn to you and say, “I got it, Dad,” and you will know that he/she truly does. At that time, maybe say the “Shehecheyanu,” the blessing for having survived and been given strength to bear witness to a joyous occasion — in this context being told you’re not needed truly is a time for blessing. Oh, and one more thing, you might cry (yes, men do cry). But know this: Those tears will be bittersweet, the day you become redundant.

Dan Moskovitz is a rabbi at Temple Judea (templejudea.com), a Reform congregation in Tarzana. Visit his blog at

Getting to know my dad, again


My 93-year-old father emerged as a different person when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. He became independent, assertive, interested and engaging. When my mother died in October, he even became a bit spiritual. He’s certainly not the exhausted father with whom I grew up, who often didn’t know what to say to me. As a teenager and young adult, I never thought we would have much of a relationship. But now, as I approach 60 and he nears 94, the engagement between us has blossomed, as it has with my brother and all our children. The relationship he now has with my wife has become his most significant. She handles his money.

At 93, my father takes almost no medication. He doesn’t use a cane or a walker. And his mind rarely skips a beat. Until he was 88, my mother made just about every decision for them. All the family’s relationships with him were tracked through her. I realize now we had almost no idea who he really was.

Last year, when the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks miniseries about the World War II battles in the Pacific was being shown on TV, my father came forward with stories we had never heard. During the segment on Guadalcanal, he excitedly said to us, “That’s my regiment. Boy, they got that perfect. That’s exactly what it was like.” Then he recalled his fears hearing the Japanese soldiers talking above his head while he was hiding in a fox hole, seeing his friends’ body parts being blown off and suffering more than 10 bouts of malaria. When the segment aired about the regiment being taken on furlough to Australia, he told us about the women greeting the soldiers at the boat and their nights out on the town after unrelenting months in the jungle.

When I watched the young soldiers each week, I tried to see my father as one of them, and through it I saw a whole different person. It is painful to accept that his entire generation is almost gone, including my father’s four siblings, all his friends and his unit. He used to see his Army buddies at reunions, but that ended about seven years ago. He tells me often, “Everybody is dead.”

One of the most difficult realizations is that there is no one alive who was a witness to his life before my generation. He no longer has anyone to gibe with, sharing the particular Yiddish expressions that he, his brothers, sisters and cousins grew up with, contorting into their own vernacular, and mimicking specific uncles’ intonations that came from the Lithuanian shtetl. “Ahh, ich hawb a hejhek — I could give a sh__” and “Zhesh tu? —Take a look at that … you get it?”

True to his generation of Chicago soldiers, one of his favorite foods is still fried shrimp. I sometimes take him to Malibu Seafood, where I order salmon and he loads up on all the treif I stopped eating years ago. Once he said to me, “I’m going to take the leftovers back to the place, so they can heat them up in the microwave.” The place is the Jewish Home in Reseda. 

I said to him, “Dad, they’re not going to heat up shrimp in a microwave at the Jewish Home.” 

“Sure they will, if I ask them to.”

“No, Dad, they won’t.” And I threw the bag away.

Food has become one of his obsessions. He misses my mother’s cooking terribly. Recently, my son opened a restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard. The style is shared, small plates, where many dishes make up a night’s experience. After my father’s first visit, he called the next day: “Listen, don’t they serve a full meal at Micah’s restaurant? How’s he going to make any money?” And then he added, “I sure wish your mother had been alive to see this.” On his next visit, Micah had put on his contemporary Middle Eastern menu an appetizer of “challah and Gramma’s chopped liver.” My father lit up with a huge smile … and ate it all.

He now often asks me about my work. I travel for business. Each time I tell him that I am leaving, he begins to rant and rave: “Again, you’re going? Jesus … how many times can you get on a plane? You need to stay home once in a while.” I realize he misses me. It’s a strange feeling. When I was growing up, I think I could have disappeared for months and he would have never noticed.

Recently I began a blog, called 60DaysTil60, about the 60 days leading up to my 60th birthday. One of the posts was about my mother. Somehow, someone with a computer at the Jewish Home must have been forwarded what I wrote, and they mentioned it to my father. He called and asked where it was published. I attempted to explain a blog to him. That opened up a whole conversation about technology, the Internet, Twitter and Facebook. In the end he said to me, “But if it’s not in a newspaper or a magazine, how can someone read it?” Try explaining that to a person turning 94.

The next time I saw him, he said something that really shook me. I told him I had a dream about my mother and that she was shuffling business cards when she said to me, “Gary, I just can’t seem to reach anybody.”

My father, always very rational, responded, “She’s not really gone.”

I took a deep breath. “Tell me.” 

“The other night, I was lying here on the bed. I heard her call out to me, ‘Herbie?’ It was just the way she always did. She was in this room.”

I believe him.

My father doesn’t ever like to be the center of attention. When I told him I was asked to write this article, he responded, “About me? What’s there to say about me?” Everyone at the Jewish Home reads The Jewish Journal. As he said to me, “No one in this place ever stops talking. There are no secrets.”

I hope he comes out of his room.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I know you’re reading this.

Gary Wexler is turning 60 and blogs about his impending irrelevancy at 60DaysTil60.com. He can be reached at Gary@GaryWexler.com.

The figurative father


Every year, as the third Sunday in June approaches, it happens: along with the ads for neckties and iPods come the endless conversations on single-mom blogsand parenting sites about what to do on Father’s Day with kids like mine who don’t have fathers. One mom wanted to honor her daughter’s anonymous sperm donor with a “family picnic” comprised of half-siblings also conceived from that donor — a sort of thanks for the DNA, if not the memories. Other suggestions ranged from volunteering at a soup kitchen (you don’t have a dad, but at least you have clam chowder) to going on a camping trip (you don’t have a dad, but at least your mom kills spiders).

This year, though, the whole discussion bores me. Because after raising a kid on my own for the past two and a half years, now I have a man in my life. And this has made handling Father’s Day without a father feel like small potatoes compared to handling the other 364 days of the year with one.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve wanted, even craved, a male presence in our family. In fact, as soon as I found out I was having a boy, the first thing that occurred to me was, how could I teach him to be a man if I’m a woman? I know it sounds silly — as one friend pointed out, you don’t need to have cancer to be an oncologist. But an oncologist thoroughly understands carcinomas. I, on the other hand, never quite understood the male species. If I understood men better, I told my friend, I’d probably be living with one more than 20 inches tall.

Even worse, after Zachary was born, I noticed that I couldn’t fill in my knowledge gaps with Google. Sure, I could easily learn what an excavator truck looks like, but I did not find information on whether wielding a blow drier as a surrogate penis to help show a flummoxed toddler how to urinate while standing would result in his college fund being diverted into a therapy fund. Nor was Google helpful on the subject of what to do when your 1-year-old calls his female nanny “Daddy.”

Meanwhile, the fathers I knew seemed loving, involved and willing (if not proud) to carry a Diaper Dude bag — despite my married friends’ complaints about their husbands not helping with the kids enough, or doing things “wrong.” I don’t know all the details, because just like their husbands, I’d completely tune them out the second I’d hear a whiney tone of voice that began with, “Can you believe he…?”

I didn’t get it: What could possibly be so bad about a “he” who changed diapers and walked around wearing a Baby Bjorn?

I imagined it must be nothing short of fabulous.

Then, six months later, I found out. Or, rather, I got a boyfriend, and he and Zachary hit it off in a testosterone-fueled love-fest. Suddenly, there was a father figure around, and let me tell you, be careful what you wish for. Oh, sure, it was fabulous — at first. While I got an extra hour of sleep in the morning, my boyfriend would dunk Zachary in the hamper, “fly” him around the house and “read” the newspaper to him at breakfast. On weekends, he’d kick a soccer ball with him at the park or shoot baskets with him in the yard. Mostly, though, Zachary would chortle and yell, “Again!” while my boyfriend tossed him up and down, side to side, and in dizzying circles.

But the more involved in our lives my boyfriend became, the more I discovered definite downsides to having a dad-like presence around. To my surprise, unlike the mythical fathers I’d conjured in my mind, my boyfriend wasn’t, shall we say, on the same page with my parenting style. My boyfriend, who boxes at the gym and talked about teaching Zachary one day, didn’t understand why I felt boxing was too violent (Me: “How can you not understand the difference between boxing and karate?”) and he, in turn, didn’t understand why I’d exclaim, “Good job!” whenever Zachary made the slightest move (Boyfriend: “What does ‘good talking’ even mean? What’s ‘bad talking’ — silence?”).

When Zachary asked why he couldn’t stand in front of the microwave, I was taken aback when my boyfriend said matter-of-factly, “Because you’ll get cancer” — leaving me to explain what the heck cancer is — instead of just saying, “Because microwaves aren’t safe.” (Cancer, in case you’re wondering, is “a really bad cold.”) As I told my boyfriend later, not only did I think rampant cell division was beyond the typical toddler’s comprehension level, but I wondered why we couldn’t keep the world a safe place for his tender young soul.

“But if we’re not honest with him,” my boyfriend said, “how is he ever going to trust us?”

Us?

Wow. When I was single, there was no “us.” With just a “me,” I had the luxury of raising my child my way, without third-party interference. Now, everything had changed. Unlike bumbling sitcom dads, who are annoying but innocuous, my boyfriend wanted to be an equal, adult partner. Which sounded great in theory, but in practice, it meant that while he’d be acquiring some of my more unpleasant responsibilities (like running out to buy Pedialyte at midnight), he’d also be taking away some of my more pleasurable ones (like having final say in the gazillions of daily issues that arise).

Juice or water? TV or no TV? Time-outs or no time-outs? Private school or public school? Now, instead of dismissing my married friends’ gripes about their husbands, I totally sympathized.

“Can you believe he…” they’d say, and I’d answer with a raucous and supportive, “Ugh! How frustrating!”

But unlike them, I’m done complaining. I’ve wanted a guy around for a long time. It’s just that it’s been a little like trading in one set of problems for another.

Meanwhile, I still don’t know what we’re doing on Father’s Day. Maybe we’ll just go iPod shopping and call it a day. Or maybe I’ll let my boyfriend decide what to do.

Now that’s a gift he’ll appreciate.

Lori Gottlieb is a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and she is currently writing a book based on her recent Atlantic piece, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”

Dad’s drive


My father, Milt Freudenheim, retired a couple of weeks ago from a job that he couldn’t let go of. Despite the fact that he is 81, he said he still plans to
go on working for as long as he’s able.

I bring this up not only because it’s Father’s Day this weekend, and I feel that anyone who works for 60 years in the same profession probably deserves more than a gold watch (he didn’t get one, actually), but also because I have followed in my father’s footsteps in ways that seem to exemplify all that is Jewish in our family — caring about the world, a need to prove oneself and, of course, guilt.

My dad is a journalist, too. For the past 29 years, his byline ran in The New York Times, mostly on articles covering the intersection of business and health care. Before that, he was a national and foreign correspondent for 25 years for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News, and he also wrote for several other smaller papers across the country. When he left The Times, he was, we think, the oldest person working there, and on his last Sunday on the job, he had a byline on the lead story on the front page of the paper. I was proud; his response: “I guess I don’t have to please them anymore.”

It’s that perpetual striving to please that stops me in my tracks.

Dad has always been reaching — not just to satisfy himself, but also to prove himself to the big guys, the great newspaper people in his head who might, somehow, in their wisdom, someday give him their blessing of approval. I have often thought it odd that one would want to stay in the game — any game — so long. That as he got older and his colleagues younger (isn’t that the most disconcerting aspect of aging?) — he should continue to worry whether he could reach the top of the heap. But Dad loves his work; he loves digging around for stories. He loves the potential of unearthing wrongs and of defending the little guy. He’s an old-school investigative reporter with a Rolodex (remember those?) to die for and a tenacity that is matched only by the best of them.

He’s also driven by that funny kind of unsettled feeling that he’ll never do quite enough, that the powers that be might require one more insight before they’ll let him rest. I don’t know whether this kind of self-questioning is justified in his case(I suspect not), but it does seem peculiar to the Jewish character, or at least it’s common among many of the Jews I know.

We’ve got 613 commandments to keep track of, the Torah tells us, and we can all think of a whole lot more we need to do to please everyone else (and ourselves). Although my father is a mostly secular guy, he’s got that particular bug that keeps him always working harder. And, for those of us who are in his sphere, it’s a trait that is both lovable and very annoying.

There’s never been a Sunday when he wouldn’t take a call from “the paper.” There’s never been a morning when he didn’t rush out to read “the paper.” There’s never been a day when I didn’t know that his love was divided between his family — including first my sweet and undemanding late mother, and now my similarly driven and much beloved journalist stepmother, art critic Grace Glueck — and “the paper.”

The nobility of Dad’s calling was never in question when my three siblings and I were growing up. In those days — the 1950s and ’60s — journalists were not seen as “the media,” with all the negatives that implies today. The authority of solid reporting generally went unquestioned, and the lofty goals of the crusty typewriter-toting newspapermen (and women), as they called themselves, were seen as a high calling. I’m sure there were lapses in the field — power plays, inappropriate moves, just like today — but my father was always enormously principled and was willing to earn less money than many of our more business-minded neighbors just for the pleasure of interviewing some of the greatest people of his day.

I followed him into his trade, through different channels — as an editor (the enemy, in his eyes), at the competition (for many years, the Los Angeles Times) and in the arts (soft!), and since coming to The Jewish Journal, my taste in writing for a small community (relatively) that I can address in a very direct way has grown, where he’s looked for the big impact that perhaps only The Times and very few other newspapers can hope for. But from him I’ve learned never to willingly settle for less than the best — deadlines permitting — and never to trust only one authority.

I’ve learned that revelations in the press, small and large, can change the world. That one person’s willingness to listen to other people’s concerns — and then share those concerns — can affect how we all live. Dad’s dedication to unearthing bad business practices in the health care industry has, I know, affected national policy on some level, if only to remind the powerful that they are accountable.

I went back East for his retirement lunch and listened to his colleagues laud and cajole him a bit, and then listened more as he told his own war stories about meeting the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and others decades ago. It’s hard to imagine the time span that such stories transcend, but the pleasure he got in talking about those highlights was shared by his many friends.

For me, Dad remains an inspiration: Never to rest on my laurels. Never to imagine that the job is completely done. Never to lose the curiosity to ask more questions, to wonder who, what, when, where and how something came about.

But I also have earned my own bit of wisdom that didn’t come from Dad. I’d like to see my octogenarian father feel comfortable that, even if he wants to go on writing — and we know he will do it — that the powers-that-be, if not some Power even higher than that, already are looking down on him and saying, “Good job, Milt. Enjoy your retirement.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

‘Catch A Fire’ ignites filmmaker’s memories of anti-apartheid dad


Shawn Slovo remembers how her Jewish parents, African National Congress activists, left home in the middle of the night to attend secret meetings. She recalls police regularly raiding their Johannesburg house and arresting her mother and father. All the while, she said, she resented “having to share my parents with a cause much greater than myself.”

Slovo grew up to become a screenwriter who honored her parents (and exorcised childhood demons) through her movies.

After her mother, Ruth First, was assassinated by a parcel bomb in the early 1980s, she wrote “A World Apart” (1988) about their volatile mother-daughter relationship.

When her father, Joe Slovo, who was chief of staff of the ANC’s military wing, described the black freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso, she penned “Catch a Fire,” which opens Oct. 27.

If “A World Apart” is a tribute to the writer’s mother, “Fire” salutes her father — albeit indirectly — who died in 1995.The thriller recounts how Chamusso, a foreman at South Africa’s Secunda oil refinery, remained apolitical until he was falsely accused of bombing a section of the refinery. After he and his wife were brutally interrogated and tortured, the African became politicized and left his home near the factory to offer his services to Joe Slovo’s guerilla unit in Mozambique. Using his inside knowledge, he told the guerillas he could raze the coal-to-oil refinery and keep it burning for days. With Slovo he created his plan to sneak back over the border, with mines strapped to his body, to furtively enter the factory on a coal conveyor belt. Chamusso only partially succeeded in his mission; he was arrested six days later and spent 10 years in prison on Robben Island. But his solo act raised morale among blacks struggling to overthrow the apartheid regime.

“It sums up the spirit of Joe,” Slovo’s younger sister, Robyn, the film’s producer, said in a telephone interview.

Although Joe Slovo was one of ANC’s top leaders and a close friend of Nelson Mandela, “he was a man who more than anything was interested in ordinary people,” the producer said. “And Patrick Chamusso was an ordinary working man who was completely uninterested in politics until he was terrorized into action.”

The producer denies that Chamusso was a terrorist, or that “Fire” glorifies terrorism.

“There’s nothing equivalent in Patrick’s actions and events taking place in the world today,” she said. “Our film is about the struggle of a man to achieve the right to vote, and democracy in a police state that ran on race lines. It’s much more like the American War of Independence than the suicide bombings in the Middle East.”

Shawn Slovo believes the movie, directed by Phillip Noyce (“Clear and Present Danger”), ties in to a filmmaking trend that would have pleased her father: The telling of an African story from the perspective of a black man rather than a white outsider (her father appears only briefly in the movie). Hollywood studios have released a number of such films this year, including Kevin MacDonald’s recent “The Last King of Scotland,” about Idi Amin. “Fire” has earned mostly good reviews, including one from the Canadian magazine Macleans, saying it “is certain to generate serious heat at the Oscars.”

For the screenwriter, the film is much more than an African espionage drama.

“The parallel for me is the way in which the political affects the personal, and how apartheid shattered and destroyed family life,” she said. “My engagement with the characters and the history has to do with my past, and my family’s past.”

In 1934, the 8-year-old Joe (born Yossel) Slovo immigrated to South Africa to escape pogroms in his native Lithuania. Four years later, he was forced to abandon school to help support his impoverished family, taking a factory job, which was where he first learned of the wage disparity between blacks and whites. He was further politicized while discussing Marxist politics with fellow Jewish immigrants who shared his ramshackle boarding house.

By age 16 he had joined the South African Communist Party and rejected Zionism in favor of his own country’s liberation movement. Even so, he considered himself “100 percent Jewish” and linked his work to the historical Jewish struggle for social justice, Robyn Slovo said.

At law school, he met First, daughter of Russian Jewish communists, and Nelson Mandela, with whom he helped found the ANC’s military wing in 1961. Slovo was abroad, two years later, when Mandela and others were arrested and sentenced to life in prison at Robben Island.Shawn was 13 that year, and she was desperate for her parents’ attention as her father vanished into exile; in retaliation for his disappearance, First was arrested and placed in solitary confinement, where she attempted suicide to avoid cracking under psychological torture. With her father labeled South Africa’s most wanted man and “Public Enemy No. 1,” Shawn was taunted at school, where even her Jewish best friend ostracized her. (Robyn and another sister were hounded as well.)

“A 13-year-old doesn’t understand politics; she just wants her parents,” the screenwriter said. “But I also felt guilty, because how could I complain about their absence when they were fighting for the liberation of 28 million blacks?”

After her mother’s suicide attempt, the family was allowed to immigrate to England, where Shawn Slovo insisted upon attending boarding school because she felt unsafe at home.

“It was also a rebellion, a reaction to the past turbulence,” she said. She entered the film business because “it was as far away from my parents’ work as I could get.”

During the rest of her childhood, Joe Slovo was mostly abroad in ANC training camps, reachable only through an intermediary or a fake name and address.

In the early 1980s, when she was in her 30s, she began to confront her parents about their devotion to politics over family. Joe declined to answer her questions, in his avuncular, matter-of-fact way: “His response was always, ‘This was in the past, let’s put it behind us and move forward,'” the screenwriter recalled.

Traveling with my father


When I found out my dad was dying of cancer, I spent a lot of time in New York with him and my mom, rather than in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time.

 
One
of the good things about being a road comic is you can live anywhere and book yourself out of wherever you are. Road comics have no office. So New York became my base.

 
My dad loved my act. He thought I was the funniest person in the world. I guess you are the funniest person in the world if someone thinks you are. My dad and mom came to see me at least a hundred times before he died in 1988. He would come and see me wherever I was doing a show. And he always got dressed up for the show.

 
I would say, “Dad, you don’t have to wear a sport coat. I’m at the Comic Strip, not the Copa.” And he’d say, “I don’t care. If I’m going out on a Saturday night with your mother, I’m not going to look like a slob.”

 
I remember him asking me to do certain bits about my mother. He loved it when I talked about how they’d been married so long, she’d sucked the brain out of his head.

 
“She loves when you talk about her,” he said. “Do me a favor. Do that thing about her cleaning the house.”

 
My dad really loved my mom. He was just so proud of her. And with me an only child, we were his life.

 
I remember when my dad had just gotten out of a hospice, and they sent him back home to die. The night he came home, I had a show to do. I said, “Dad, maybe I should stay home instead.” He wouldn’t hear of it. “You go and be funny.” I did.

 
About three days later, I had this gig about two hours away in upstate New York. That afternoon, we were all sitting at the dining room table when my dad said in the weakest of voices, “Can I come with you tonight? I’d really like to see your show.”

 
I knew what he was saying. He was saying: “I really want to see you one more time before I die.”

 
I asked my mom what she thought.

 
“If you think you can handle him, then fine,” she said.

 
My dad was very weak, but he could go a short distance if you helped him. I said “Yeah, I can do it.”

 
That night as we were leaving, my mom said, “You boys have a nice time tonight. I’ve got things to do here at home. Call me when you get there.”

 
So off we headed to my gig. It was a cold winter night, and a light snow fell for most of the drive. We didn’t talk much on the way up. As I remember, my dad slept most of the way, anyway. I kept looking at him as he slept in the car. I cried most of the way up, but that was OK; I was with my dad.

 
When we got to the hotel parking lot, we noticed that it was empty, except for three or four cars. “Hey Marko” my dad said, “Can I drive around the lot?”
My dad loved to drive. He was the one who’d taught me to drive, just a few years earlier, in the empty parking lots of New York on Sunday mornings. He’d done every single bit of the driving for the 39 years he was married to my mother.

 
She never drove once.

 
Now he was asking me to let him drive. “Sure dad,” I said.

 
So I got him around to the driver’s seat, and for two minutes he drove very slowly around the lot. “That’s great,” he said.

 
I helped him park, and we checked into the hotel and went to our room. It was still early, so I helped him off with his pants, and he took a nap. I called my mother, told her we were safe, and she started crying. “Take good care of him. I love him,” she said.

 
I said, “I love him, too, and I also love you.”

 
At about 8 p.m., we went over to the club, which was attached to the hotel.
Before we went in, my dad said, “Thank you for taking me.”

 
I said, “You’re welcome. Thank you for being a great father.”

 
Then he asked me to do the routine about my mother that he always liked. I did them all for him.

 
A few weeks later, he died. About a year later, my mother came to see me work.

 
On the way to the club, she asked me to do the routines about my father. I kissed her on the head and said sure. I also did the ones about her, because I knew he would have wanted to hear them.

 

Mark Schiff is a standup comedian who has been on all the major talk shows and has recently been touring with Jerry Seinfeld. “I Killed: True Stories of the Road From America’s Top Comics” is his first book.

Don’t Think Of Me As Different — I’m Not


My name is Rachel, and I am a Jewish American girl who was born in China. I was adopted. I am finishing the fifth grade, and I go to a Jewish school where I am not the only Chinese girl — there is one other girl from China named Willow, who is in the fourth grade. We are friends.

Sometimes I do not want to be different from the other kids,

Watch Out Ladies, Dad’s Dating Again


Guess who has a new girlfriend? Well, besides me. And thanks in advance for your warm wishes. It’s the old man, actually. That’s right. Look out golden girls. Dad’s dating again.

Well, he was — until he met “the one.” Can you believe that? Six months and he’s off the market already. Now you can’t even get the guy on the horn. And when you do, his chick’s always beeping in on call-waiting.

“Tell her you’ll call back,” I plead.

Seniors today — always yapping on the phone.

Dad, or as I now refer to him, “Hef,” turns 80 this year. That just goes to show you how badly men want women in their lives. You think the urge would flame out at age 72? Please. 76? Hardly. The big 8-0 and still scoping out babes like Potsie on “Happy Days.”

A bit out of practice, yes, but give the guy some credit. Sure, he left the dating scene for a brief 52 years, but he returned stronger than ever. Scoured the online personals. Hung out at senior singles nights. Met and dated a number of women. My sisters started setting him up with prospects they came across.

I had thought about asking my female friends about their moms, but worried if things worked out a certain way, I could theoretically wind up as my own grandfather.

You’ve heard of the book, “He’s Just Not Into You”? Well, he’s really into this woman. It’s always “my girlfriend this” and “my girlfriend that.” Just like a teenager: No job. Obsessing over women. A really bad driver. I’m expecting the acne to start at any moment.

And get this — he’s asking me for advice! Me. The guy who once broke up with the same girl five times in seven months. I’m more confused than anyone.

Sure, I’ve dated a fair amount, but the over-70 age range is one even I haven’t yet ventured into. Don’t have a clue as to what those gals have on their mind. But judging from the women I do know, I’m guessing cats and jewelry wouldn’t be too far off.

Also Harry Connick Jr.

And the stories I hear. Once, he told me he met a woman who said she was 68. And guess what? That’s right — she was actually 71. Nice to see some courtship traditions last a lifetime.

Another time, I got the “why should I call her, let her call me” argument. Or “She lives too far away.” And “We don’t have anything in common.”

Now I know where I get my sunny disposition.

I’m glad he finally met someone. A nice, Jewish woman at that! She’s terrific. Pretty. Well-mannered. Early 70s. Marriage-minded, but not looking to have more children, evidently.

They’re having a great time. Even went to Disneyland the other day. The two of them flying down the Matterhorn like screaming kids. I’d suggest bumper cars, but it only promotes more bad habits behind the wheel.

Note to ABC: “The Bachelor — Senior Edition.”

Anyway, he’s happier now. That’s the great thing about finding someone — at any age. Gives you more reasons to keep going. Not that stamp collecting and watering the lawn aren’t enough. And the best part? It keeps him out of my hair.

Now I do the badgering: “How’s your girlfriend? How come I never hear from you anymore? When are you getting married? No, of course, I would never submit a story about you to a local publication read by all of your close friends and family members.”

I envy them. Seems to be a lot less pressure when you’re dating at their age. Fewer expectations and demands. They’ve been together a year and not one major fight, as far as I can tell.

Can’t wait for the bachelor party. Question: Do I hire dancers? Or their grandmothers?

I hope it lasts forever. I really don’t want to run into dad during happy hour at Hooters. At least not again.

Freelance writer Howard Leff lives in Los Angeles with one dog and two guitars. You can reach him at highway61x@gmail.com.

Actor’s Missing Dad Takes Center Stage


In his raw, autobiographical monologue, “Who Is Floyd Stearn?” actor Michael Raynor struts onstage with a swagger reminiscent of James Caan. Raynor, playing himself, jabs a finger at a faded photograph.

The photo was taken on 185th Street in Queens, on his grandmother’s lawn. In the photo, an athletic, brawny man embraces a 3-year-old. The man is Raynor’s father, Floyd Stearn. The smiling boy is young Michael, who clutches a toy banjo, his blond bangs peeking out from a cowboy hat.

Raynor tells the audience that, even at 40, he cannot discuss the photo; should anyone pressure him, he angrily departs.

“Every time I see the picture I cry,” he adds quietly. “That’s why I can’t look at it. I see the happiness in my face, and it scares me. I’m hoping it won’t go away.”

His father’s sudden departure at age 7 cost him much happiness for years, and this macho-yet-tender one-man show is Raynor’s attempt to re-connect with his father and to understand the man who abandoned him.

The 2004 off-Broadway success is among a slate of recent plays to explore dysfunctional Jewish families in crisis, notably Tony Kushner’s Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change,” which had a run in Los Angeles late last year. Raynor’s piece is a “Rashomon”-style mystery, with the actor portraying himself at various ages, as well as his mother and grandparents, who offer conflicting theories about his late father.

Was Stearn a nice Jewish boy who loved his children, but was kowtowed by a hostile ex-wife and a domineering second spouse? Or was he a heartless deadbeat who sent Michael birthday cards with no return address signed by himself, his new wife and children?

Because his relatives were tight-lipped, all Raynor knew until five years ago was that Stearn had been a burly jock.

Of his penchant for Caan, he says: “I looked for my dad in tough Jew father figures in films, like Caan, Kirk Douglas and John Garfield. I emulated the qualities I imagined my father might have had.”

In fact, the actor arrives at an interview on the Westside with that Caan-esque saunter and the tough-but-senitive guy persona he projects onstage.

At 18, he said, he adopted his stepfather’s surname, because he had been more a father to Raynor than Stearn. But Stearn’s absence continued to wreak havoc in his life. In relationships, he says, he was “programmed to disconnect,” cutting off friends and girlfriends “to create perceived emotional safety.”

Because arguments over child support, in part, had kept his father from him, financial concerns haunted Raynor. Though he had played the leads in his Jewish summer camp plays, he did not initially pursue theater, because he worried that actors lived hand-to-mouth. Instead, he worked in the financial field, on the floor of the commodities market, until he finally accepted a role in an off-off Broadway play in his late 20s.

Also in his 20s, Raynor received a notice of disinheritance, stating that his father had died of bone cancer at 42.

“I went shopping and stocked up on food, because I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving the house for a while,” he recalls in the play. “I cried and fell asleep and cried and fell asleep for two days straight. And the worst part is, I thought I had finally forgotten him.”

The actor’s anguish apparently hits a nerve for some viewers. After seeing the show in 2002, radio’s Howard Stern wrote Raynor: “Not many men could openly confess before an audience the intense father hunger they had…. It’s very easy as a man to show anger, but a lot more difficult to tap into the longing and desire for a caring, loving father.”

Despite his father hunger, Raynor built a busy career, playing leads in independent films such as “The Waiting Game” and the HBO miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon.” He continued to know almost nothing about Stearn — until he chanced to pick up his own cousin at a party eight years ago (he hadn’t seen her since she was a girl). Once recognition set in, she told him Stearn’s mother was alive and living in Florida.

On the “Moon” set in Orlando, Fla., six months later, Raynor finally mustered the courage to call his grandmother, whom he had not seen in a quarter century.

“I showed up on her doorstep on what happened to be her 87th birthday,” he recalls. “I felt like I was walking into a psychedelic flashback.”

The emotional visit turned out to be “more healing than 1,000 years of therapy,” he says. “I learned what I had previously kept from myself because it was too confusing: That my father had loved me, even though he left.”

Raynor discovered more by tracking down his half-siblings and convincing sometimes-reluctant relatives to conduct more than 50 hours of taped interviews. He decided to turn the material into a play, though the writing process was so painful it kept him up at night.

Yet performing the piece — and saying “Kaddish” for Stearn onstage — proved cathartic for Raynor, who is considering parenthood for the first time in his life.

“I was severed from my father, so what I do in the play is to resurrect him and reconnect with him, if only in spirit.”

“Stearn,” runs through Sept. 27 at the Pilot Light Theatre. (323) 960-4418.

 

Singles – Poetry in Motion


In one night, I had dinner at an all-you-can eat salad bar in Arcadia, met my father’s first girlfriend in 25 years and weathered a nearly disastrous poetry emergency.

Sound the onomatopoetic sirens; this thing was a relationship 911. Free verse was about to cost my father the best relationship of his life. And it was my fault. What rhymes with “Zero tact”?

So there I was, sitting across the table from dad’s new girlfriend, trying to impress her, using my best table manners, eating forkfuls of canned beets on my self-consciously dainty salad and thinking to myself: “This is just weird.”

That’s when she paused, fiddled with the charms on her necklace and pushed her bangs away from her eyes.

She said, “I didn’t know what to wear. I had on a different outfit, but my kids and grandkids made me change clothes. I was really nervous to meet you.”

“Me too,” I replied, exhaling. “I’m used to introducing boyfriends to my dad, but I’ve never been on the other end. I’m so glad you’re nice!”

And it would have been quaint if that were the evening’s only awkward moment, the one we joked about later. Instead, our initial moment of bonding caused me to let down my guard. It happened slowly. First, we talked books. I recommended “The Corrections” and she suggested a short story by George Orwell. I loved her, black top, khaki pants and all.

Her most shining moment was when she joked about my dad’s “fold out” yard, the one at his mobile home.

“The yard is Astroturf,” she explained, in a just-us-girls way. “When I come over, your dad unfolds it for me. It’s like the mobile home’s red carpet.”

That she could not only accept a man whose “home” needs its tires rotated, but also make little inside jokes about it and at one point, according to my dad, even fix a leak in the mobile home’s roof, made me adore this woman. A nice lady, a high school Spanish teacher, even. I wanted to put in a good word for my dad, which is when things went sourer than yesterday’s bowl of wilting Caesar.

“Have you seen Dad’s Web site?” I asked innocently, sure she had. “I went on there the other day. How do you like having all those poems about you online? I hit the word ‘ravage’ and I was out of there.”

Stunned silence.

She fiddled with the charms again, which is when I noticed the crucifix. This is also when I observed her face flush and put it all together: schoolteacher, religious, neat ponytail, Republican. She had no idea about the poems, or the fact that the word “ravage” had been used in a sentence with her name.

“You know I’m a very private person. I told you whatever happens is between us,” she whispered, a bit panicky, glancing sidelong at my dad.

“Yeah, between you and anyone with access to the World Wide Web,” I muttered.

My dad and I burst into that explosive embarrassed kind of laugh, but we stopped short because she wasn’t laughing. She got up to splash her face with cold water. He looked at me, beads of sweat on his upper lip.

I couldn’t stop apologizing. She returned from the rest room looking damp, but composed. Within a half an hour, she was fine.

Dad and I got in the car to drive home and before we were buckled in I asked, “How bad is it? She could be logging on right now.

“It’s really bad, Teresa. There’s one poem — the ravage poem — she just can’t see.”

From the car, we dialed his Web master, a friend of mine, waking her up. When she looked up the poem, doing a search for the word “ravage,” she said simply, “You better hope I can pull it down before this lady sees it. Wow. Why did your dad post this? OK, it’s been deleted.”

We knew we had beaten her to the computer. And we started laughing again so hard I almost drove off the road. Love makes you do crazy things, makes you write volumes of pseudo-erotic poetry with forced metaphors and unfortunate rhyme schemes, makes you want to scream from the leaky rooftops, makes you want to post your drippy thoughts on the World Wide Web for no good reason at all and makes you spill your dad’s secrets over croutons and fountain drinks just trying to engage his new girlfriend, to flatter her.

As I drove, I was flooded with the feeling of how right this all was, that my dad fixes cars and posts poetry on his auto shop Web site, that neither of us have any tact, that she didn’t really care, because he has finally found someone as nice as he is. It was poetic justice.

Teresa Strasser in an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She’s on the web at www.teresastrasser.com.

 

The Dealbreakers


My blind date, Scott, likes college hoops, ’80s TV and helping others. I like his cute tuchus. I’m thinkin’ we’d make a fine pair of Jews. We stray from the first date playbook and follow a Santa Monica dinner with a Main Street stroll. As we walk past yet a third unique boutique on our way to get dessert (that we don’t want) and more time together (which we do), Scott says those three little words that can rock a girl’s world. “There’s my car.”

It’s a PT Cruiser — washed and waxed today, valid registration, parked less than 12 inches from the curb. No fuzzy dice, high school tassel or pine-scented Playmate air freshener. The car doesn’t scream “show-off” or “shady,” Speed Racer or gas guzzler. What it screams is middle-aged dad. More specifically — my dad.

Yup, Mr. Davis, father of four, head of the Davis tribe, the abba figure, my partner at the Brownie father-daughter square dance, drives a PT Cruiser. My dad and my date sport the same ride. That throws my night in reverse.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a Cruiser. It’s no Barbie Dream Corvette, but it’s a reliable car, fun design, decent gas mileage. An acceptable set of wheels for Scott, the San Francisco transplant who triumphed in the face of parallel parking. An unacceptable drive for Scott, the guy I’m crushing on. ‘Cuz it’s my dad’s car. The one he drives to work. The one he drives to shul. The one he motors to Home Depot in. The one he cruises for bagels in. Not exactly Hot Wheels.

I try to get over it. Think lovely thoughts. Picture a happy place. Separate the two. My dad’s car is eggplant; Scott’s car is black. My dad’s has a no-spill coffee cup; Scott hates coffee. My dad sits in the driver’s seat; Scott and I will make out in the backseat. Gulp. I can’t get down in the back of my father’s car. Someone call a tow, this date just ran out of gas.

I’m serious. We are stalled. I like my date, I love my dad, but this can’t work. I know it’s not nice to judge a man by his stick shift, but I can’t do a second date with Scott. Steering the same wheels as my Dad is a first date dealbreaker.

Don’t shake your head at me. Everyone’s got a catalog of relationship red flags. My dealbreakers include, but are not limited to (suitors read the fine print): men who wear jewelry and man sandals or call our waiter “chief.” Guys who don’t watch sports, walk me to my car or get my writing. Dates who check their cell phone, Blackberry or hair during dinner. Boys who dip or smoke, or aren’t smoking hot.

I’m not talking about what shampoo to buy, what thread count to sleep on or whether to go with red or white maror. We’re talking about a date, a possible relationship, a potential life partner, hello — a Saturday night. I don’t have time to waste on a mismatch. Dealbreakers are dating shorthand; they tell us when a potential is a pass.

It’s like last fall — my Brentwood hairdresser set me up with her client. We met at Barney’s Beanery to grab a beer and catch a game. Our date was over before the kickoff was returned. I barely opened the menu when he said “What are you gonna get? My ex and I used to come here and get pizza. Half green pepper, half pineapple. Let’s get that. I’m sure you’re up for it.”

I’m not up for it, down with it or into it. Why would I care what you ate with your ex? Why would you bring it up? Do you still like her? Do you plan to woo her back with our leftovers? It’s bad enough that this joker pays $50 for a haircut. But asking me to order his ex’s favorite dish is a blatant first-date dealbreaker. Go directly to date jail, buddy, do not collect $200. His request was self-centered, thoughtless and rude, just like Scott driving my dad’s car. Huh … actually those two things are nothing alike. One is a character flaw, the other a coincidence. One is inexcusable, the other just not-so-sexy. And by not-so-sexy I mean not sexy at all. But still, my hang-up is not drawn to scale.

So Scott drives my dad’s car, it’s not like I’m perfect. I talk loudly. I talk too much. I interrupt. I ask the waiter what I should order. I have a story for everything. I tell stories twice. I always get cold. I bite my nails. And I’m still talking.

I want someone to take my first date flaws with a grain of kosher salt — Scott seems like the kind of guy who might. Actually, Scott seems like the kind of guy who’s great. Maybe I should give him a second chance. Maybe I should say yes to that second date. Maybe dealbreakers were meant to be broken.

But if he wears white pants has hand hair or uses the phrase “irregardless,” I’m so out of there.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com

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The Salesman


A few months ago, I asked my father, now happily retired, what profession he would choose if he were starting over again.

"Oh, I’d do the same thing," Dad said. "I’d be a salesman."

"A salesman?"

"Yes. I’m good at it."

It’s Father’s Day, and I am so glad that Dad is around to read this: Dad, I had you wrong.

Do we ever really know our parents? Even if we’re giving their lives close scrutiny, can we understand the choices they made? Maybe no better than our children understand us.

I was certain my father regretted the limitations of his options that landed him selling industrial supplies, before starting his own small business catering to the booming Long Island aviation industry.

Where did I get that idea? He made more than a decent living, bought a home, and had the satisfaction of leaving a business someone wanted to buy.

Yet, he did give a certain impression. Some of it was his own griping each evening at dinner, sharing with my mother about the late-paying clients and the late-arriving employees. Right up to the day they sold the business, he had a word to sum up his rounds of calls and billing: "aggravation."

From a child’s view, adult life seemed so hard. I could measure his fatigue by the metal click of the key in the door each night, announcing he had come home. I heard the pounding of his shoes, ka-clump, ka-clump, ka-clump. He climbed 12 stairs, each footfall heavier than the next. Had he worked in a mine, he’d have been as weary.

I waited for his ascent in the living room, sitting on the couch in front of the green, wooden fish tank my father had designed and constructed with saw and paint. The fish tank revealed everything in Dad that selling did not: patience, tenderness and love. He never got angry when the fish died, or when the filter clogged, even if it was because I overfed them. He let me open the top of the tank, scoop out the latest victim. Then I opened the plastic bag and sent the new, fresh mollies, guppies and angel fish to swim free.

This was the world my father should be in, I thought. My mother liked working in insurance. But my father was an artist; he should be making fish tanks for a waiting world.

Little did I know that Dad had his own ideas about what life could offer. He had long ago made his peace with "aggravation" and the cost of making the most of one’s opportunities. And he, to my amazement, didn’t seem to mind.

I am at that age now — daughter left home, parents retired — where the last word has been said. Whatever attitudes toward work a parent can give a child, it’s well been expressed. I ask myself now, what will she make of my advice?

Stick around and see, is the best answer that life provides.

Parents have only so much influence. The world takes care of the rest.

One night in 1966, my family gathered in the playroom to watch Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" on television. We sat on the couch, silently. For more than two hours, we did not move. I thought I saw my life go by.

In my memory, it was as historic event as the assassination of JFK. Lee J. Cobb played the tragic Willie Loman, being laid off after 34 years in sales. Mildred Dunnock played his wife, Linda. Biff and Happy might have been played by my brother, Alan, and me. We were so caught up in the struggle of the Lomans it was as if all of America was watching us.

That was when it came together, my father’s profession and my American legacy.

In some Jewish homes, "Salesman" is more than a Broadway classic — it is a family saga, played out in our dining rooms and in our hearts. The play captured the economic euphoria of the postwar expansion and the anxiety that growth was somehow based on sand. I read somewhere that during the postwar decades, ‘salesman’ was America’s No. 1 non-agricultural and non-industrial job description. Here was Miller telling America, attention must be paid.

A playwright oversold the salesman’s tragedy. It’s taken me years to get the point. There is book-smart, and there is street-smart, my dad tried to teach me. One tells a story. The other lives a life.

Dad Speaks Out


My Dad is hard to shop for. Whatever gift we come up with is usually met with the phrase “You kids shouldn’t have spent the money,” followed by “Is this returnable?” In honor of Father’s Day next week, I thought I’d give him about 800 words to say whatever he wants. What follows is what he wrote.

Teresa Strasser

I used to denigrate those men who began new families in their 50’s. Lo and behold, at 57, I became a father again. Did I have the stamina to be dad a third time? After all, Teresa and Morgan, the first two, had set impossibly high standards. But Teddy was irresistible.

True, he wasn’t perfect: his ear and cheek were wounded, and he had one bad eye. We had to return Teddy, who, by the way, is an opossum — one that had apparently just met up with a dog.

That night we put Teddy outside the front door. In the morning, he was still there, making weird sounds, pathetic and helpless. We brought him in and got on the Internet to discover possum facts:

  • They are the only marsupials in North America.

  • They eat everything from fruit to rats to dog food.

  • They cleanse the garden of snails and slugs.

  • They are nature’s garbage disposal.

  • They have been around for at least 70 million years.

    We learned that Teddy must get formula through a dropper, every four hours, or he would not survive.

    Teddy did survive.

    He lay in his box for a few days, weak and near death. Then, one night, he escaped from his cardboard box and began to circumnavigate my bedroom. Using the fingers on his little paws, he grabbed the spokes on my bicycle, hoisted himself up the chain, and then tightroped to the end of the chain, before he fell to the ground. The little daredevil had a touch of the klutz.

    He finally made it to the top of the wastebasket, leaned his front paws against my bed, and climbed up. He slept with me the next several days, waking up to make his rounds about my room. He ended his foray by climbing over my head and then snuggling under the comforter for the evening.

    One evening, I woke up with a shock. Teddy was nibbling on my ear. Startled, I moved him to the other side of the bed and wondered: Should I have named him Tyson?

    I so loved fawning over this little guy. I loved nurturing him. But these good times were always shadowed by a vague, unsettling feeling, and that feeling came into focus with the words of my stepson, Aaron: “Dad, let Teddy be a possum.”

    So we found a possum-rescue person only a mile away from our house. We brought Teddy to Sharon. Sharon would prepare Teddy for his ultimate release in the wild.

    I knew I had done what was best for Teddy, but it was still heartbreaking to leave Teddy in the hands of a stranger, knowing that I would never see him again.

    The experience with Teddy evoked those sweet memories of early fatherhood. One of those memories was the Father’s Day poem Teresa wrote for me when she was just 5. And the day Morgan, age 11, playing in Little League majors, “touched them all.”

    So why would a man so blessed bemoan the loss of the love of a rat?

    I could pick him up and kiss him on the nose and just generally kvell over him shamelessly. That is how it was with the kids when they were young.

    Things are different now. The nurturing has been done. The kids are now friends. Sometimes they ask for advice. Sometimes I even ask them for advice.

    The great times continue when we get together, sharing a bottle of Hennessy, some good cigars, and conversation that lasts long into the night. Movies, sports, philosophy, career, gossip — all the fun topics. And we almost always find bagels and a gym on mornings when we get together, wherever we are.

    Still, I miss Teddy.

  • Dear Dad


    From “The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things,” by Rabbi Steven Z. Leder (Behrman House, Inc.)

    “A parent’s love isn’t to be paid back; it can only be passed on.”— Herbert Tarr

    Dear Dad,

    Tomorrow is Father’s Day, and we are thousands of miles apart — apart as we are too often and for too long. So it seems a good time to write you and tell you — dear God, what to tell you? How can a son possibly say what a father means to him — how can I say what you mean to me?

    From the time I was a little boy, I always knew you were different. You didn’t play ball like other dads. You didn’t help with homework. You didn’t cook burgers on Sunday afternoon. I never really understood why, until much later. Later I learned that there had been no time for sports, or even school, when you were growing up. You grew up poor — burning-wax-paper-to-stay-warm-in-the-Minnesota-winter poor, picking-tin-cans-out-of-the-garbage-dump poor. I learned that when you were young and would come home from school with a book, the laughter and ridicule was too much for a little boy to take. “Look at the professor,” they would say.

    So you could never be the Little League-coaching, algebra-tutoring kind of dad. But we had other things:

    Fishing. God, how I loved to fish with you. Watching you row the boat across the lake, shirt off, tan, strong, eyes sparkling like the water. You were a giant; you were my dad. We had long walks in the woods. Smelling, tasting, feeling the wonder of God’s great, green earth. We had work. If there was one thing you were going to teach your children, it was work.

    When I was young, I never really noticed that you came home with bloody hands and frostbitten toes, wounds from the war you waged for 40 years at Leder Brothers’ Scrap Iron and Metal. I never considered the fear and responsibility you must have shouldered.

    Married at 18, with five children to feed by the time you were 30 — yes, work, work was your salvation. Or so I thought. Now I know better. Now I know you were never working for yourself. To this day, in spite of your success, you have a hard time spending money. You were working for me, for Mom, Marilyn, Sherry, Joanne and Greg, too.

    I started cleaning toilets and mopping floors at the scrap yard when I was still a little boy. “You have to start at the bottom,” you told me.

    When I got caught shoplifting, you had three truckloads of dirt dumped on our driveway, handed me a wheelbarrow and shovel, and ordered, “Spread it over the yard, front and back.” It took an entire summer. It was punishment, a humbling reminder, and it worked. I turned around that summer. Hard work was your salvation, and, somehow, it had become mine. It still is and will always be. Can I ever thank you enough for teaching me about the salvation of a job well done?

    We never talked much about women, but somehow I grew up respecting women because you always demanded I respect my sisters and my mother. We never talked much about Judaism, but you brought me to shul with you to say “Kaddish” for your father. You sent me to Israel when I was 16, and when we said goodbye at the airport, it was only the second time I ever saw you cry.

    We never talked much about education, ideas, or the world, but from the time I was a little boy, you said, “There’s always money for books.” Later, you sent me off to Oxford to study Shakespeare, to tour Europe and Russia. You supported me through college and five years of graduate school. The boy who was teased by his immigrant parents for wanting to read, became the father whose mantra was “There’s always money for books.”

    We never talked much about tzedakah, but somehow you were always helping someone who had much less. We never talked much about family, but you raised five children who live today without sibling rivalry because we had a father who knew how to forgive. Somehow you managed to rework your worldview to embrace a son, my brother, who is gay. Somehow, even now, you manage to guide your children without ever telling them what to do.

    We never talked much about marriage, but at our wedding toast, you looked at Betsy and me, raised your glass with a wide smile, and simply said, “May you always be each other’s best friend.” After all these years of performing weddings myself, of premarital counseling with hundreds of couples, of volumes read on love and marriage, leave it to you to have said exactly the right thing. Leave it to you to get to the heart of it all in one sentence.

    We never talked much about being a mensch, but never once did I see you favor rich over poor, beautiful over ordinary, Jew over non-Jew, man over woman, white over black. We never talked much about being a father, but somehow, thanks to your example, I feel like I’m getting it right with my own children.

    You know, Dad, there’s a story in the Torah about when Aaron, the High Priest, is about to die. He takes off his priestly vestments and puts them on his son El’azar. It’s our tradition’s way of saying we must carry on the work of our fathers, that eventually they live through us.

    Lately, I’ve noticed something about us, Dad. We never used to, but now we end every phone call by saying, “I love you.” I thinks it’s because somehow we sense that ever so slowly, we’re getting closer to Aaron and El’azar; closer to the end than we are to the beginning.

    So I’m writing to say thank you, Dad. Thank you for teaching me about God’s green earth, hard work, women and friendship, money for books and being a mensch. Thank you for being the man I will forever strive to become, for getting me ready to carry on your work. Happy Father’s Day.

    Love, Steve.


    Rabbi Steven Z. Leder has served Wilshire Boulevard Temple since 1986.