Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Tribute to Dad

Next Sunday, June 20, is Father’s Day. In the more than 30 years I have been writing this column I have never devoted an entire column to my dad. I have often thought about it, but my feelings of loss for him have always overwhelmed my ability to write about him.

This year in November will be half a century since his passing when I was 27 years old. He had not quite reached his 61st birthday when cancer took him from me.

He was the oldest of six sons of an immigrant father and mother. Himself an immigrant arriving in the U.S. at 16 years of age, my dad grew up fatherless in Poland.

His father, seeing the growing antisemitism in Poland, in neighboring Germany and having directly experienced it in Russia, left for the U.S. to establish a life of freedom in America and to earn enough money to bring his ailing wife and four surviving children to join him as soon as possible. It took my grandfather six grueling years of peddling dry goods in New Jersey to earn the fare to bring his family to America.

Finally, together safely in America, the family expanded to six children. My father at 16 was the oldest of six sons. He had the humiliating task of progressively sitting in the lower grades of an elementary school to learn English so he could join the work force to support the family.

He met my mother, who was born in the U.S., and they married in 1938. Her parents had emigrated from Russia as parentless teenagers in the aftermath of the pogroms against Jews, which had devastated many Jewish communities in the latter part of the 19th century.

Needless to say, my father, who was a very intelligent and wise man, never received a formal education, but he imparted to his children those values of the importance of education and the ethics of hard work and honesty in living a successful and happy life.

In addition to his native Polish, he fluently spoke Yiddish and Hebrew; and we were raised in a traditional kosher Jewish home, holiday observant and regular attendees at synagogue.

He imparted to me the historical and existential importance of being part of the Jewish people, the great gift of Torah that God bestowed upon the Jewish people, and the importance of connecting with Israel.

He was a family man and patriarch in every sense of the word; and our home was the epicenter of all our extended family holiday gatherings.

He was the family disciplinarian, and as most Jewish children experienced in the 1950s and 1960s, he still maintained several attributes of a European upbringing, mainly the use of mild corporal punishment. He always tempered his actions when administering punishment with the words, “This hurts me more than you!” Although, I never used corporal punishment on my children, I finally understood what he was feeling when I became a dad myself!

As I grew into my teen years I developed a great deal of respect for my father as he watched with joy his growing family and his children’s accomplishments. His children were the first in our family to graduate from college. He was overwhelmed with pride when I was invited to come to Florida to work at Cape Canaveral and at the Kennedy Space Center on the Gemini and Apollo space programs.

In 1967 I took him out to see what was then only a mock-up of Apollo Saturn on Launch Pad 34A. There were tears of happiness in his eyes that in only one generation his son, whose father standing beside him had to learn English as a 16-year-old foreigner sitting in elementary school with young children, had in only one generation achieved the American Dream.

Thanks Dad, for giving me the opportunity to pursue and achieve the American Dream!

If you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at melpearlman322@gmail.com. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner.

Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first vice president and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.


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