My Father, Bigger Than Life
by Jenifer Golbus
My father was always bigger than life to me. A tall man with stature and presence, a booming voice, and strong opinions, it’s no wonder I felt that way as a little girl. But as I grew into a woman, I continued to be in awe of this bigger than life man who was charming, witty, funny, smart as hell, and strong yet gentle – just like his Hebrew name, Chanan Aryeh, gentle lion.
My father was a master at creating traditions that produced cherished memories. One of the many such traditions was an annual birthday dinner. When my twin sister Lisa and I turned 10, my dad and Karen took us to a birthday dinner at Fleur de Lys, a very chic French restaurant in San Francisco. I remember getting all dressed up, and my mom driving us to the ferry. My dad and Karen were waiting on the other end with roses for us. I felt like royalty. Dinner at Fleurs wasn’t just dining – it was an experience. From getting dressed, to the journey there, to entering into the beautiful room draped with gorgeous linens, to the ordering, the conversations, the ambiance, the exquisite food, everything about the place and the evening was special, and the memories began that year. Each year after that, we looked forward to it, and enjoyed choosing our best outfit, getting dressed up, and feeling just grand. When our sister Ashley turned 10 she began the experience too. I now see that my dad was helping us develop as young women by showing us a world of etiquette, sophistication, culture, and exquisite cuisine. My sisters and I will all carry this wonderful tradition forward with our children, and we will toast to Grandpa Harvey (probably with something chocolate) and thank him for helping us to remember to live, and to live well.
I learned so much from my father. One of the most valued things I learned was how to love.
I watched his relationship with Karen and instinctively knew I was witnessing something special. In his own words, “Suffice it to say that I’d be happy if the epitaph on my gravestone is ‘Karen married him.’ I adore this woman and now, twenty three years after we’ve been married, it just gets deeper.” I recently discovered that he used to call on her parents to woo them while she was away on business. Now that was a man who knew how to go after something he wanted ! And this was one of his qualities that I admired – a stubborn persistence to keep at something long after most of us would have given up.
My Dad loved good food, and he passed that on to his daughters, as I have already described. But we do not require Michelen stars to make us happy. There is one story in particular that has made its way into family lore. There was a Wintchell’s donut shop about two blocks up from my dad’s house on 8th Avenue, and we frequented the place. We didn’t mess around with single donuts – we always went for a dozen. And, because donut eating is a serious business in the Gould house, we would take bites out of all of the donuts in order to maximize flavor intake, throwing the remnants back into the box. The next morning we would reheat the mangled pastries for breakfast. This was our favorite way to end one day and start the next one. One birthday night after an amazing five course meal Fleurs de Lys, after the cheese course, and the dessert, and the little cookies they bring with the check, as were all rubbing our swollen bellies and complaining of how we might burst, Karen jokingly said, “The only thing that would make us even piggier right now is if we stopped at Wintchell’s on the way home!” Well Harv, always up for a “what the heck, let’s live a little” moment, stopped the car at Wintchell’s donuts. Full of laughter-filled protestations, we all followed him into the donut shop, giggling like grade school kids, pointing to our desired delicacies. And darned if we didn’t go home and eat donuts while standing around the kitchen counter, still in our high heels and fancy Fleurs de Lys clothes, laughing the whole time.
My father was an outstanding parent. Now, I didn’t always think that when I was a kid. You see, my father’s parenting philosophy was that it was his job to be a parent, not to be our friend. He told us he really didn’t care if we liked him or not – that it was not his job to make us like him; it was his job to raise us. I remember being filled with teenage disbelief when he said that to me, but today as a mother, I love him for it. In today’s world with so much permissive parenting, I appreciate what my father did. He was strong in his decisions and gentle with his love. Chanan Aryeh. Dan Fogelberg said it best in his song, Leader of the Band: “His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.”
I am happy to report that when I became an adult, we did like each other, and in fact, I loved spending time with my dad. Some of my fondest memories are sitting around the dinner table at 8th Avenue. You know how you so often spend so much time preparing dinner, only to sit and eat in minutes and then begin the cleanup process? Not at 8th Avenue. We would sit around the dinner table and talk and laugh and talk and laugh, and nobody wanted to leave. That’s a part of living my dad was so very good at – being in the moment, enjoying the people he was with – and of course, making us all roll with laughter.
I learned from my father up until the very end. I recently told him that as I watched him choose life and gratitude instead of remorse and despair, I learned from him how to live better. In the last weeks of his life, I asked him, “Dad, how do you do it? How do you stay in this hospital bed all day, day after day?” He told me the best way he could describe it was that there was a certain peace; an acceptance, a taking things as they were, a letting go. You see that? Up until the day he left us, there he was, still modeling for me how to live. On his blog, he wrote:
“One of the things I did within a relatively short time after my diagnosis was to smell a rose. It’s not that this was a new experience for me, but in an important way, it was. I didn’t just smell that rose. I inhaled its scent. It was as though in times past I’d taken a waft and thought, Lovely. Now, I took it in deeply and thought, ‘This may be the last time I’ll ever smell a rose so I’m going to make it count. I’m going to close my eyes, and accept this perfumed gift as though it’s meant just for me in this moment.’ And so I’ve tried to treat every day as though it could be my last. I don’t take time for granted. I am thankful for each day.”
I am thankful for each day too, Papa Bear. I am thankful that God chose you to be my father and I your daughter. You gave me the gifts of music and laughter; you showed me how to stand up for what I believe; you modeled for me how to love and be loved, and how to be true to oneself. You showed me how to live fully, and with purpose and to stand by my beliefs and to own my decisions. And most of all, you gave me your love, a gift I will continue to cherish as long as I am here. People are saying to me now, “May his memory be for a blessing.”
Your memory IS a blessing. A huge blessing that wraps me like a blanket. Today, and all the days to come, I toast to your life. Here’s to you, Daddy. L’chaim.