My father has been dead for about 4 years. I so wish I could see him and hug him. He was a nice man. No one ever accused my father of being a verbose man, which in a crazy way made what he said so memorable. My relationship with some of my family members could be strained at times. One time, in particular, I did something which was not appreciated by pretty much the whole family, or rather I did not do what they thought I should do. Everyone was upset, I was on the phone with my father crying and he said in effect you are my son and I will always always love you. Which translated to me that I have your back. There was one time when I was working for a difficult boss who frequently questioned my abilities. We were going to work on a bike race for a week. My father said, tell him you might doubt me but I do not doubt myself. I love those words and often play those words over in my head when I need encouragement.
Some of my best memories of my father were when I slept in his hospital room when he was sick. I loved it, just me and dad alone. We would tell jokes and talk.
One of my favorite dad stories is him teaching me how to shake someone’s hand. My father started this by telling me how he shook some guy’s hand at work and it was just a mush handshake. That is not good, he said. Then he shook my hand vice-grip-like and said you don’t want that. It’s the macho man handshake. Then he said look me in the eye and give a firm handshake. Oh, the things we remember. Very often we learn from people by watching people and seeing how people behave. I saw firsthand how he worked very hard and how he treated my mother.
When my mother would tell a joke, my father would say two points: Becky, (his nickname for her, and affectionately patted her thigh. I never heard my father ever say a mean word to my mother. They were married for over 57 years.
My father and mother passed the baton of life to me. Whenever I accomplish some task I struggle with I think of him and how I am honoring us and completing the circle of life.
My father’s life was incredible and pretty traumatic. We are Jewish and he grew up in Hungary in the 1930s. Where anti-Semitism ran rampant. The Hungarian government made my family switch our family name from Weintraub to Virag. Weintraub was too foreign/Jewish of a name. Virag is a common Hungarian name. My father and his family hid out from the Nazis. My father told me at one point he was at a train station and if the Nazis made him go to one line he was going to go to the concentration camps, but he did not get selected to go to that line. At one point Russia invaded Hungary and made a lot of the Hungarian men dig ditches for the Russian Army so they could fight against the Nazis. My grandfather died doing this. This happened probably when my father was 12 at the latest. From that point, he would have to wake up at 5 in the morning to help my grandmother with the running of their bar. My father and his twin brother were 12-year-olds without a father and my poor grandmother was a widow. In 1956 my father fled Hungary during the Russian invasion. He had to crawl on the ground while Russian searchlights were looking for him, my uncle, his wife, and their baby daughter. If the lights spotted him they would have been shot and killed.
He came to America knowing very little English. At times he would work three jobs. When I was a boy he would work long hours, which was hard on him, but it taught me the value of a strong work ethic. My father’s main job was as a process server. Which is a fancy name for someone who delivered eviction notices to people who did not pay their rent. He did this in the South Bronx in the 1970-1990s. The south Bronx was a very rough neighborhood at that time. He never let us know he was nervous about his well-being.
My message to every father out there is to enjoy this day. Please make sure every day you try to listen to your children with patience and love. Being a father is so important.