Ben Sokolec, Spring 1980
At a French coffee shop for breakfast during a recent trip to New York, Steve and I sat across from a father and his ten year old son. Dad ate his omelet while working his Blackberry. The boy concentrated on his laptop game while he nibbled a slice of toast. Neither spoke. The check came, the father paid and they left. The boy held the laptop open, still working the keys as they climbed into the car.
For many years, my Dad, Ben Sokolec, sold wholesale meat to local butcher shops and spent more time than he cared to at the stockyards. His days began at five in the morning, by two his workday ended, then he’d play a round of golf and by the time I got home from school, he’d be napping on the sofa, listening to the radio. I’d nestle alongside him in what I remember as a safety zone. We didn’t say much, but the connection was there. He’d ask about my day, my friends. Mostly we’d just listen to an afternoon baseball game or the Jack Benny show. Then I’d do my homework, we’d have dinner, maybe take a walk. With television came the Friday night fights and Milton Berle.
Dads are supposed to hold expectations for the child, encourage high grades in school, success in business, excellence in sports. My Dad didn’t emphasize those goals, probably because he didn’t have much ambition himself. He preferred to focus on honesty and integrity, telling the truth and not using foul language. He was a tall, thin man who rarely, if ever, lost his temper or judged others harshly. Ben played silly games with his grandchildren, imitating puppies, stretching his arm, stealing a nose. He had a twinkle and the kind of humor that made listeners groan. If he had any lost dreams, he never shared them with me.
Ben was a man of few words:
How to play golf. “Keep your eye on the ball, your head down and follow through.”
How to drive a car. “Drive.” We were parked in an empty parking lot.
How to get a date. “Tell the boy he’s handsome, smart and strong.
How to dance. “I’ll lead, you follow.”
My Dad died sixteen years ago, a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease. He disappeared from our lives over ten years, vanishing into a quiet, desperate end.
Every spring, when the weather warms up, I think about pulling out my clubs and playing a round of golf, to feel close to him again. I wonder if, years from now, that little boy will feel the same way about a Blackberry.