| Family Tempo |

The Gift

My father wrapped his final gift with enduring love


ifts were my father’s love language, and he gave whenever the opportunity arose. He loved to splurge on his wife and on us, his children.

My mother, on the other hand, came from a home where every penny was accounted for, and every expense evaluated for its necessity. My father deeply appreciated her money management skills — it was her careful scrimping and saving that allowed them to buy a car, and later a house. Yet every now and then, he would follow his heart and give with all the joy and love he had for us.

When I was a little girl, I saw my father most on Shabbos. On weekdays, he returned home from work after I was already asleep. On lucky days, I would hear his Ford Windstar pulling into the driveway while I was still lying awake in bed. I’d hear his light footsteps coming down to the basement where we slept. He’d come into my brother’s bedroom and then mine, pretending to chastise us for not being asleep yet. With his strong hands, he’d bounce me up and down on the mattress, saying in a voice that could only be loving, even as he pretended to be angry, “Why aren’t you sleeping yet?” I’d giggle, feeling the warmth emanating from him.

My mother could never use the typical one-liner “When Tatty comes home, you’re gonna get it!” because although there were certainly times my father disciplined us, he wasn’t an overbearing authoritarian figure. My mother was the disciplinarian. Her love for us was steady, there in the daily routine and constancy. My father’s love was overflowing, always brimming over.

It was a treat to take a drive with my father. “Pull out a snack from the trunk,” he would tell my little brother when they drove to shul together. Potato chips, sandwich cookies, chocolates — my brother could choose whatever he fancied. He loved those rides and kept his special treatment a secret from the rest of us.

When my father would pick up my sister from her weekly job helping my aunt, he’d give her a Danish. “Eat it up and don’t tell anyone,” he’d say. The secrecy made it all the more special.

My older sister’s monthly orthodontist appointments were near where our father worked as a salesman in a busy children’s store in Brooklyn. After her appointment, she would stop by the store and my father would pull her into the back, where he kept a stash of nosh for his coworkers. “Take something,” he’d encourage her magnanimously. Sometimes he’d give her a dollar to buy a treat. This was the 1990s, when a dollar went far in the candy aisle.

Cell phones weren’t common in those days; to reach my father you could either “beep” him on his beeper or call him at work. Even as a little kid, I knew the number to his store by heart. There was no question in my mind that if I needed something, my father would be there for me.

The gift-giving gene passed down to his children. My parents’ 14th wedding anniversary was coming up and my second-oldest sister, who was just 12 years old, was determined to get my parents a gift. And so, the four of us big girls went on a shopping expedition.

Our budget, comprised of our collective Chanukah gelt, was just under $50. We walked into a gift shop on 13th Avenue in Boro Park, where my sister spotted a pretty tea set. The salesman, bemused at seeing such young shoppers, asked her if our parents drank tea. Sheepishly, she admitted that they did not. He then showed us a small crystal wine goblet with six mini glasses on a silver-plated tray. Our 12-year-old spokesperson approved the sale and the salesman wrapped it up for us.

On the anniversary day, we invited our parents to a gala performance in the living room of our house. It was quite a feat to get our mother to take a break from bath time for another one of her kids’ plays. “What’s today?” she asked, a bit frustrated at this interruption to the bedtime routine. We finally convinced her to take a seat, and the play began.

Doors served as stage curtains and a string of balloons was the scenery. Scene One was a “welcome choir” during which I sang, along with my younger siblings, a tuneless tune of “Baruch Haba.” My father watched us with a wide grin on his face while my mother recorded our performance on camera.

When the curtains/doors opened for Scene Two, we all sang “Happy Anniversary” in unison and presented the gift to our parents. My mother unwrapped it, shock evident on her face. “You did this,” she told my father, sure that he was involved. My father was just as surprised: “I didn’t know anything about it.” Our parents’ shock turned into genuine pride. We were thrilled with our success, and felt ten feet taller.

My father showered us with gifts in return. One week it was brand-new Shabbos slippers for us all. I received a pair of sky-blue slippers adorned with delicate silver embroidered flowers. My little brother got step-in slippers with firetrucks on them. The next week, he presented the girls with silver bracelets embedded with colored stones. I wore that bracelet for many a Shabbos, losing several of the colored stones over the years. Eventually, I put it away, deep inside my jewelry box, where it still lies, a reminder of my father’s love.

But the gift I treasure most is intangible.

My mother was taking a trip to Israel for her nephew’s wedding, and my father, who did not enjoy traveling, stayed home. My mother planned to send us all out to friends and family, believing that it would be easier on my father not to be concerned with the minutiae of caring for eight children ranging in age from two to 16.

My father, though, had other plans. He wanted to enjoy these two weeks with his children, to spoil us and have fun with us. In the end, the older kids stayed home while the younger ones were farmed out. At 11 years old, I was one of the lucky ones. I stayed home with my three older sisters.

During this time, my father went all out. He prepared an itinerary of exciting events to do each night of our mini stay-at-home vacation. The Olympus camera was pulled out to record the special moments throughout our week.

The first night we had an ice cream party. We were all ready for bed when my father came home from Noshers and invited us to the kitchen table to eat. We each got our very own cup and did not have to share! I had never tasted soft serve ice cream before. The pretty swirl of chocolate and vanilla, soft and creamy, was a piece of heaven. I savored every bite, licking my cup, and my fingers, clean.

Next on my father’s agenda was stocking the fridge and pantry. We took a trip to Goldberg’s Supermarket where my father commanded us to fill a shopping cart to our hearts’ desires. We were simultaneously excited and bewildered — could we, who had absorbed our mother’s frugal ways, really accept such a luxury?

“Nuu,” my father urged us by the freezer aisle, “what do you want? Potato or cheese blintzes?” We stood there tongue-tied, staring at the freezer full of foods we had never once had in our house. My father responded by throwing both into the cart. Then he began piling the cart high with anything and everything he thought we might like: knishes and pizza, chips and chocolates, pudding with swirls of whip, Israeli yogurts, and cotton candy, usually reserved only for carnivals. When we got home, the fridge, freezer, and pantry were bursting. We took pictures, trying to digest the unbelievable.

Another night we drove out to the Staten Island Mall. We traipsed around the mall, and my father insisted we each buy something for ourselves. My sister chose a Barbie doll. We were completely bewildered, not knowing what to make of this expansiveness. I could not make up my mind and finally chose a small Snoopy Purse.

One night was reserved to drive out to our grandparents who lived in Spring Valley. My grandmother was excited to see us and served us her famous cheese blintzes.

Kosher Delight was our destination one evening for supper. My father ordered chicken and fries for all of us, and we sat there munching chicken and dipping fries, feeling very lucky indeed. To us, it was as good as an upscale restaurant.

We celebrated my 11th birthday that week with another pajama ice cream party. This time, I got two ice cream-filled cigar rolls side by side, forming the number 11.

On Shabbos, my father insisted on having all his children home, and so we spent Shabbos together as a family (sans my mother). It wasn’t easy for him to manage the whole crew, but it was something he wanted, and he took it in stride.

Motzaei Shabbos, he took us to Kids N Action for a fun-filled evening. Trips were for Chol Hamoed only, and even then, we often went on trips that were easy on the pocket, but this was a special occasion and money was irrelevant. We jumped in the ball pit and slid down dark spooky slides as my father watched from the side.

My father’s giving heart extended to his beloved wife as well. In his trademark style, he came up with a poem for her homecoming. Oak tags, markers, and color-copied pictures covered the dining room table as we worked late into the night, creating a poster that was a masterpiece of my father’s love and imagination. When we were done, we hung the gigantic “Welcome Home” sign on the side door entrance of our two-family house.

My mother arrived home on Tuesday morning, bringing her own brand of love, and life returned to normal.

That night, it was our turn to give, and we presented my father with a “Best Dad” mug and a balloon, in appreciation for the fun time he had given us. We didn’t know how much it would really mean to us in the years to come.

On Thursday, two days after my mother came home from Israel, my father was admitted to Cornell Medical Center. By nighttime, he was in septic shock. As a transplant patient, he was on immuno-suppressant medication, and his body could not properly fight the infection he had contracted. For 19 long weeks the battle waged, until his soul ascended On High.

The memories of those two special weeks now came into sharper focus as we recognized it as his last gift to us. No, he had not known that they were to be his final days. It was simply his innate goodness, his love for us, which spurred him to give us all that he could. He delighted in giving, and wanted only to see us happy.

Years later, I skim the album, looking at the photos of those two special weeks. There is joy and pride on my father’s face, and it is a comfort to know how much he loved us.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 837)

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