Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Few Words About My Dad

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.


stevebyer said...

Wonderful story--I loved it. Happy Father's Day to all the guys who read this.


Sandy Wallman said...

I love this. OF COURSE, I do!! Our memories may be a bit different, but our Dad will always be the same. Your memories make me cry, but it's so good remembering.... Happy 'Old Spice Day', Dad.

Thanks Barb. Love you, San

jeanie said...

Very powerful story, Barb. Brings up my own wonderful memories of my Dad. Running out to meet him when he pulled into the driveway behind our house coming home from work, and carrying his lunch pail into the house for him. I remember his big strong hands and how safe I felt when I held them. He was huge to me. Not only physically, 6'3" and over 200 lbs, but also his integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, wisdom and softness. You could call me a "Daddy's Girl" and be right on! Thanks for the memories, Jeanie

Eleanor Gerstley said...

This is a wonderful tribute to Dad's memory. You have brought back memories I had almost forgotten. This is an incredible picture of Dad too. Thank you so much Barb. You have a wonderful gift of words.

Love you,

Carol Owens Campbell said...

This picture of your Dad is mesmerizing, not just the photo you share of him but also the word picture you create. I love your tribute to his quiet strength and succinct instructions, i.e. "Drive." In your own brief, succinct paragraphs you too offered instructions on how much it means to just "be" with a parent, even if the parent and child "do" nothing. Thank you for making Ben Sokolec come alive to me, Barbara!
Love, Carol