One Man's Tribute to His Father

Everything that I know about being a man I learned from my father, Moses Schimmel, by his example.

Humility: One day when I was 29 and working for an older lawyer, I was introduced by him to one of his clients, a doctor. This man asked me if I was Moses Schimmel's son and I proudly responded yes. He relayed to me how my father, as a medic in the army at the end of World War II, did the chemical analysis on the lamp shades that the Nazi's had made of Jewish children's skin. His testimoney at the Nurenberg Trials sealed their fates. My father had never told me that he did anything in the army, except march through France in the freezing rain. As a teen, I had asked him what his greatest accomplishment had been during his tour of duty and his response was that he went all the way through World War II without ever firing his weapon at anyone.

I knew my father was smart. He always had the answer to my questions when I was a child. That same doctor told me that my dad was the original "Dougie Houser." He graduated from the Yeshiva High School at fourteen and was accepted to medical school when he was only seventeen. He never told me.

Mercy: Dad grew up with a boy who became a lawyer and judge and then went back into private practice. This man cheated my father and some other men out of money. One of the clients pressed criminal charges against the man and the State was going to take away his law license. Dad took up a collection from the man's boyhood friends to pay the client back so that the license would not be canceled. When I asked him why he helped a man who had taken his money, he told me anyone can make a mistake. If the man lost his livelihood, he would not have the chance to repent.

Reputation: I was hired to take over a trade secrets suit in Federal Court. The opposing counsel, who I had never met before, was from one of the most prestigious, expensive, and large downtown Houston law firms. At the first conference called by the judge, my opponent made a point of letting me know before we were called into chambers that he expected to get favorable treatment from the judge, who was formerly a partner at his firm. I said nothing about his expectation as we were called into the judge's office. Once seated, the judge asked each of us to introduce ourself. My opponent did not wait to be called on, but jumped up and introduced himself and emphasized his law firm. He also introduced the partner that was with him from his firm. The judge made no mention of his past connection to the firm and did not inquire as to the well being of any of his former colleagues.

The judge then turned to me and asked me who I was. I gave him my name and he immediately asked me if I was Sandra and Moe Schimmel's son. I answered affirmatively. He turned to my opponent and, with a big smile on his face, went on for close to five minutes describing his admiration for my step mother, Sandy, and how he and Moe had studied together as boys. He closed by adding that if I were half the man my father was, he expected this case to be tried in an exemplary manner. I replied that I knew that he knew my parents but that I thought that it would be out of place for me to bring it to his attention, if he did not broach the subject first. My opponent's visage dropped to the floor.

Moderation: As a child, I was an obsessive perfectionist. Part of my problem was that although I wanted everything to be perfect beyond the capability to reach that state, I also had attention deficit disorder and was too impatient to concentrate on the effort needed to follow step by step instructions. Dad taught me to slow down and concentrate on each step, because skipping steps lead to a bad product and that meant that I would have to take three steps, instead of one. I would do the job wrong, then, take time to undo it, and, last, time to do it right. Moderation was the key. Work hard at work without being distracted, but never take work home. At home, concentrate on enjoying my family and always take Shabos off to have a relationship with God and my children. Take a vacation each year with the whole family and one with just my wife, so we can relate to each other without the kids. Money is important for what it can do for your family, but share with the needy. Don't destroy your family by working too much for money. Who is happy? He who is happy with his lot.

Attitude: Dad's life has not always been a bed of roses. He has had his share of successes and failures, joys and sorrow, but he is almost always a beacon of cheer. He lost two businesses before hitting his stride with the drug store. His father died of a heart attack, when Dad was in college. He had to sell his pharmacy when the grocery store it was in was being sold to another chain. His divorce and separation from us children was extremely painful. Most painful of all was when my step-brother, Rickey, came down with Leukemia and suffered in the hospital for eight months. Dad would tell me how he would wake in tears, months after Rickey had died. Still, those who know him know that he insists upon brightening the room with a hearty "Hasta la vista, kiss my sista!" His motto is, "Life is too short to make yourself and everyone around you miserable, smile!"

Devotion to Torah: Last Passover Shabos, Dad and I went to Schul. We sat in the back, as services started. The Gabai, who is in charge of the service, approached Dad and explained to him that the honoree who had been chosen to deliver the Haftorah, the weekly portion of the Bible written in Hebrew, had come down with a severely infected throat and had just sent word with a friend that he would not be coming that day. He asked Dad if he could fill in and sing the Haftorah, which was particularly arcane, since Shabos seldom fell on the second day of Passover, necessitating a special verse that was rarely heard. Dad protested that he had not even read the chapter in the last twenty or more years. But then he asked for five minutes to refresh his memory before he made his decision. He read the verse for five minutes and then told the man he would take up the challenge. Five minutes later, without further rehearsal, Dad was called to the stage and sang the Haftorah in perfect trope and errorless. Not bad for a man of seventy-two years of age wearing trifocals.

Fatherhood: To my shame, when I was fifteen, I decided that shuttling between my mother's house, where I lived during week days with her, Lauren, and my step father, and my father's house, where every other weekend I lived with him, Sandy, Mark, Rickey, Lisa and Grandma Belle, was too much of a strain on my psyche. I felt like I had two lives, with two opposing sets of parents, with two philosophies that I could not reconcile. So, I quit visiting Moe and Sandy, until I turned eighteen. At that time, I wanted more independence from my step father and that meant that I had to get a job, so his financial support would not be vital when I graduated and went to college. I was offered a job at a stereo store, downtown, but since my step father was not encouraging my efforts at freedom, I was forbidden to take my mother's Cadillac to work. Either I would have to take an hour long bus ride or find another way to work.

I started to remember when Mark still lived with us, before moving back to Dad's and Sandy's house. Mark discovered, much earlier than I, that the only way to retain his self respect was to refuse to take money from my step father and to sever the tar covered strings that were attached to that money. He secured a paper route that earned him enough funds to have some independence. Again, my step father did nothing to encourage the project. Getting up at 4:30 A.M. on Sunday, during the winter, to roll and deliver the early paper was particularly trying. Nonetheless, Moses was there to take Mark to deliver the papers in the freezing sleet. He was happy to have the time to be with Mark and share a father-son encounter. This started me to thinking of all the other loving, selfless things that Dad had done for me when we lived together, and after the divorce. Soon, I asked myself why I had chosen to cut off my relationship with a person who had never shown me any face other than that of a boundlessly caring and loving father. I was unsatisfied with any answer I could come up with.

So, I walked the eight short blocks between our houses, which seemed like a wide gulf at the time. I rang the door bell and was accepted into the family fold, without question or recrimination. As long as I worked at the stereo store, Dad got up early and took me to work, before he went to his own store, and we shared the same father-son special time together that Mark and he had shared years before. By that summer, I moved out of my mother's house and back in with the rest of my family.

Forgiveness: My father's forgiveness of my estrangement from him was just one of several lessons he taught me. For fifteen years I would not talk to my mother. The mere thought of having to be in her company again lead me to wake in the night in cold sweats. It was my father who repeatedly lectured me on the wrongness of my course of action and how it was sinful for me to deprive my mother of the pleasure of knowing my wife and children, as well as the error of depriving them of a relationship with her. Although I did not give into his request for me to make up with her and my step father, in my heart, I knew that if Dad was this persistent, I should consider his view. He never made a point of lecturing me, unless I was straying into dangerous waters. So, when my sister, Lauren, invited me over to her house for her son's second birthday party and warned me that mom and my step father would be there, I responded that I was man enough not to care and not to worry about an ugly scene.

Mother was so glad to see me and the kids and my wife. She hugged and kissed them. I stood off from them, not wanting to get reinvolved with a person who had caused me enough pain in my life to discourage any desire to chance it again, but she insisted that I let her hug and kiss me. Then she asked if my lips were broken or if I could give her a kiss. I fought back the urge to ask her if she really thought I wanted to kiss a person who had tried to shoot me with a thirty-eight and had never apologized. Instead, I kissed her, as I knew that my father would insist. She begged me to promise to bring the children over to her house for a visit. This was the house where she had my room painted and remodeled within twenty-four hours after I left to rejoin my family at Sandy's and Moe's house, after the attempted shooting. I tightened my jaw and made the promise, seeing my father's face as he had lectured me on this subject in the past.

Several months passed between the promise and the first time that I loaded my wife and kids in the car for the visit. Many nightmares about how my mother would ingratiate herself with my children and then intentionally or thoughtlessly hurt them or me woke me between the time of the promise and the visit, but when we finally did go, everyone had a good time. I have never regretted fighting my own impulses and listening to my father's advice on this subject. I have often regretted not listening to his advice on this subject earlier.

Compassion: Shabos dinner in my parents' house was always a special occasion when my grandmother, Belle Cohen, may her loving memory last forever, cooked her roasted brisket, kugel, and succotash. It was not to be missed. We ate at 8:00 sharp, which was when Dad usually was able to make it home, after closing his pharmacy. Sometimes when I was still in law school, I would go pick up my father, when one of our cars was in the shop. One cold and rainy Friday, I arrived after studying all day. As usual, he had been at work since early in the morning, when he opened the store. So, he was rightfully insistent that I pick him up promptly at 7:30. I was tired and hungry and I could see by my father's drooping eyelids that he felt the same way, as he pulled the canvass sheet over the counter to close off his store from the greater grocery that surrounded it.

As he locked the small door to the counter, a weary, gray haired lady with a doctor's script in her hand, and true despair in her eyes, approached from behind him. She implored him to reopen for her, as her husband was dying from cancer and she had to have this medicine to assuage his unbearable pain. She had been to two other pharmacies, both of which were out of the medication. Never complaining of his own tiredness, my father smiled at the lady, patted her on the back, and took the prescription behind the canvass curtain to see if he had the pills. He only had enough to fill two days' requirement, which would leave the ill man without respite on Sunday, when even fewer drug stores were likely to be open. So, he called several wholesale drug suppliers and other retail pharmacies that were operated by colleagues of his, and he found a few more pills, but not enough at any one to fill the whole prescribed amount. He came out from behind the canvass and told the lady not to worry, although he only had enough for part of the order, he had located the remainder at other stores. If she would come back in an hour and a half, he would make sure that she would not go home without the medicine her husband needed.

We got in my car and drove to the other side of town to the other stores and back. It took two hours, but when we returned, the lady was waiting, almost frantic. She thought we had forgotten her. Dad assured her that would never happen and he opened the store again and filled her order. She was almost in tears with gratitude. We drove home, exhausted and starving, but I had learned a lesson in compassion that will never dim in my memory. Shabos dinner was especially enjoyable that night, even though it was warmed over.

Perspective: Moses has taught me the magic question to ask whenever a conflict arises: "Will this amount to a hill of beans a hundred years after we are dead?" If the answer is no, then a compromise should be made. If the answer is yes, then no quarter should be given. In my fifty years of life, almost all conflicts have been resolved as not amounting to a hill of beans. Without this lesson, I would have never been able to overcome my obsessive perfectionist personality and I would have probably died from an ulcer by now.

Moses has taught me not to seek revenge, wealth, or fame. These all die with a man. It is the love and good work that a person does that lives on after him. With all the other good lessons he has taught me, he will live forever.

Bruce Ian Schimmel

Houston, Texas United States - Thursday, March 08, 2001 at 10:13:39 (CST)