Happy Old Mensch Day

All of my awesome Jewish-stuff (hair, nose, love of eating way too much and often, etc.) comes from my dad. This weekend (oh mighty Father’s Day) is the time to celebrate all of the cool, Jewish dad stuff. The guy is essentially an Ashkenazi clone of Rowan Atkinson. In all irony, I had no idea we were even Jewish at all until I was about 11 years old.

Before I knew my dad as a middle-aged Jewish/Christian hybrid, I knew him as someone from a different time — a time with bell bottoms and James Brown — who loved Northern Soul music, speed-skating, sweets, and as a sometimes stoic figure who helped me with homework after his own long work day. We have always been close, even when he frequently traveled abroad when I was younger.

My dad is a stand up guy. Really, he is. Even when he gets grouchy about something, he picks himself up and just does it. This Father’s Day, I think of him as a man displaced but strong; he is the only one from his family in America. A small history: My grandfather escaped Austria during WWII, moved to England, learned English, and somewhere along the line had my dad. Learning about the war in school was bizarre once I knew my own family had narrowly escaped the horror displayed to me. I had no idea my dad had come so close to not existing, and that he was only one degree of separation away from being stuck in Vienna. It took me a while to realize that in his neighborhood in Birmingham, England, he was a mixed, poor kid, and that his home is sometimes still there, on that cobblestone street. But also here, in suburban Shakopee.

“When I were a lad…” my dad will start, talking about how he walked 3 miles to school or lived in a room the size of my closet. While he had to stretch his shoes and wear an old school uniform, I have been known to complain about the quality of Disney Channel shows my sister used to make me watch. I could try and encompass all of the hell he has given me over the years in the form of “Well, when I was younger” stories, but I couldn’t contain it to one article.

The more I learn about his past the more I learn about my own stubbornness. We come from such different places and have ended up in different ones, too. I am marking this year’s father’s day as the day to remember where he came from and to find the place where I can meet him in the middle.

Coming from a diaspora and then blazing his own trail, my dad represents the roaming Jewish spirit, the chase for something more. He has often denied his Jewish cultural heritage, because his family didn’t teach him much. Neither of us know Hebrew, but I see him for what he is: A smiley, grouchy, old mensch, who has taught me a lot about how to be stubborn, but still good to everyone.

Happy Father’s Day, papa.