My dad was a difficult person. No one would ever argue that fact. But that’s one of the things that I loved so much about him; I felt special because he loved me even though he had such a hard time connecting with anyone. Other important facts: he was brilliant, he was handsome, he was a proud Israeli, he laughed at almost everything, and he died this weekend.
I am writing something here because I want some humans to know who he was and to think about him for a few seconds. He was a real person who lived. He was hard for some people to understand, but I looked up to him, and I loved him so much, and I don’t want him to be remembered just for the way he died.
For example, here’s an amazing movie he and his friends made in Israel in the 70s. He stars as the detective.
My dad never taught me Hebrew (his first language, and one of seven that he spoke), but I picked up some from a very young age just from being around him. I knew that “Motek” meant sweetheart, “Yalla” meant let’s go (that’s actually Arabic, but I just thought of it as a thing my dad said), “Zuz” meant get out of my way. He also taught me “the worst thing you can say to an enemy in Arabic”, but I won’t repeat that here. He told me it would get my tongue cut out if I said it to the wrong person. His middle name was אריה (“Arieh”), which means Lion. We always joked about that because he wasn’t much of a lion.
He had a strong Hebrew accent but didn’t know it (he really didn’t understand why we made fun of him). Our favorite dad-isms were “oranjuice” - why repeat syllables - and “gloves” (rhymes with stoves). When he and my mom bought me a cat when I was little, there’s a classic story about how the one we wanted came with its sibling and I heard my dad say to my mom “If we bought both it would be doubly expensive” and I said “Dobu Spensive?” and so those became the cats’ names.
When my parents got divorced (I was four), my dad finished packing up his stuff, carried me outside, sat me on the roof of his car, and said “Maya, I may never see you again.”
I did see him again, and he used to take me hiking. He always wanted sons (he never got any), and liked to pretend I was a son; he always said he was training me for the army (that being the Israeli Army). He would take me out for the day and say I couldn’t bring any food or water because that’s how the army really was. I was probably seven or eight; my mom would get so mad.
My dad was a sniper in the army, but he didn’t want to tell my sister that when she was little, so he told her he was a bagel slicer. My sister told people for years, proudly, that her dad was a bagel slicer in the army. She just found out what he really did a couple years ago (she’s 17 now).
When I was little, my dad and I would always listen to Achinoam Nini in the car. I loved her. Most of her songs were in hebrew so I didn’t understand what she was saying, but I memorized them just by sound and listened to her constantly. Once he even took me to a concert. It was amazing; she does all the percussion on her body with her hands. I just remember being so impressed by her and thinking she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen.
More recently, on a trip to Israel a few years ago, my dad bought an Arik Einstein/Shalom Chanoch cd and we played it as we drove around the country. It’s so good (it’s called Shablool); it’s like the Beatles of the Middle East. I already knew about Arik Einstein but had only ever heard one of his songs. It’s called “Maya” and it’s the reason my dad chose my name (but he didn’t tell me that until I was a teenager). He explained to me what the song is about since I couldn’t understand it; it’s the song Arik wrote after his first daughter was born, and how much he loves her as soon as he meets her. One time my dad sang it to me when it came on in the car and I cried. He had a silly singing voice - very deep and scratchy - but I always loved when he sang.
In high school, my dad got me an internship at Mt Sinai Hospital in NYC (he was a research scientist there), and he was so proud to show me around and to introduce me to all the doctors there. While I was there, I got to sit in on a lecture he was giving to some med students and doctors (something about the brain; I couldn’t tell you). He didn’t know I was coming and he blushed bright red, mid sentence, when I walked in, and told everyone that his daughter was here and that he was nervous. He did a great job (I did fall asleep, though).
After I turned 18, my dad finally agreed to take me to Israel to meet his family. (He’d always been weird about it because my mom wasn’t Jewish; long story.) I will never forget the first time I experienced my dad in Israel. He was a totally different person. He seemed about 20 years younger the moment he stepped off the plane. He wanted to take us everywhere and show us everything. He pointed out landmarks and told us stories about the history that had happened there. He opened up about his childhood and his time in the army. He laughed like a hyena while he was joking around with his old friends. He introduced me to everyone and made me feel like I belonged.
When I was in college, my dad came to visit me at UC Santa Cruz. He loved it there so much. He said it smelled like Israel (he’s always missed home; he’s never liked living in New York), and we went on all kinds of adventures exploring the forests and the beach. I gave him a “UCSC Dad” shirt which he’s worn religiously to all important events since.
My dad loved - LOVED - my dog Oliver. He called him his grandson. He showed pictures of him to his coworkers. He emailed stories about Oliver to our relatives. We always joked that he and Oliver got along so well because Oliver thought he was another puppy. That’s really how he was - just a puppy. He just wanted to run around in the dirt and dig up trouble.
A year or two ago, my dad ran for the school board in my sister’s school district. He’s always been passionate about education and finally decided to try to do something about it. To everyone’s surprise, this weird foreign intellectual in a tiny Long Island town won against the years-long incumbent. He got to ride in a parade (in a convertible, driven by a blonde, which he couldn’t get over) and he looked so happy. He hit a lot of dead ends in politics - I think he was surprised by the bureaucracy, this straight-talking man who saw everything in black and white and felt like all the answers to the budget crisis were so obvious - but we were so proud of him for trying to do the right thing.
My dad and I were always close, even if we didn’t always get along (the teenage years were hard, like they are for anybody). We shared a passion for animals (dogs in particular; we watched Beethoven together probably 20 times), technology, linguistics, action movies (Bruce Willis was his god), and weapons. The first time I visited my dad’s apartment after he moved out of our house, he showed me a drawer full of knives and said “This is for when you get your first boyfriend”; I thought that was the coolest thing ever. He was so tough! He would defend me! I wasn’t scared of anything when I was around him.
Once in preschool, this kid named PJ shoved me or something and made me cry. My dad told him that if he ever touched me again he would break both his legs.
I just want to use this space to say, in case he has internet access wherever he is (God, that would make him so happy, to be able to read ha’aretz in the afterlife), that I needed him. He’s been my rock, my whole life. My smart brave handsome dad, who had an answer to everything. My demanding dad, who thought I could be the best and asked me “Why not an A+?” when I called him to tell him I got an A-. My funny dad, who made me laugh with his stupid laugh. My super-weird dad, who introduced me to anchovies and avocado sandwiches and blueberry coffee and marlboros. My anti-religious dad, who would grudgingly sit through Jewish holidays but joke to me quietly while everyone else was praying. My anti-social dad, who would bring me to corporate parties with him so we could hang out together in the corner and make fun of everyone else there. My protective dad, who told me I could get married when I was 45, but who supported every terrible life decision I ever made.
I love him so much. I miss him so much. I am so mad that he died. He could have done so much more for the world, and for me. He was a brilliant scientist who has been trying his whole life to do something about degenerative brain diseases. He didn’t want anyone to have to stop being themselves. He was terrified of old age.
Anyway. Stop complaining about your stupid problems. Tell your parents you love them. Do the best you can. And please never forget that people need you.