From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
I have worn many different hats over the years, but as the summer calendar once again ushers in another Father’s Day, I can honestly say that the hat I enjoy wearing most is that of a father. And while my kids think I am a nerd, their friends enjoy my company, or so they tell me, so perhaps I am doing something right. The confluence of Shavuos and then Memorial Day provided real opportunity to spend quality time with the “tax deductions,” and I continue to marvel at just how beautifully they are developing their personalities. Fatherhood is the one job I hope never to retire from.
Our pediatrician once told me that “you are not a parent officially until your kid tells you that you are the worst parent in the world,” and I have heard that over the years from all my children. But I will take it because there is nothing like being in love with your kids.
I was once trying to convince a friend of mine to stop smoking. He mentioned in passing that he showed up one minute late for his daughter’s graduation and missed seeing her receive her diploma. He was late because he was putting out his cigarette. That did not convince him to quit the ugly habit. But what I told him next did. I told him that if he keeps it up, one day his daughter will be called to the hospital to say goodbye to him for the final time. “Can you imagine if she got there one minute late?” I asked. He responded that it would be awful, but how could he control that?
I told him that every cigarette he smokes takes seven seconds off his life, and one less cigarette might have allowed him just a few extra seconds to account for her being late. He told me recently that he remembers that conversation every time he is tempted to light up. He says that every cigarette he does not smoke is a second chance that will add minutes for him and his daughter to spend together.
A second chance to spend extra minutes is wonderful. A second chance to spend years cannot be put into words, but I will try.
I heard this story from a doctor in our community just yesterday. He was in his office late one Friday afternoon when he received a phone call from a man from Brooklyn. It seems that this man’s father had been taken to the hospital and was told that he needed a pacemaker. The man on the other end of the line told the doctor that he wasn’t sure he agreed with what the hospital said and that he wanted this doctor to examine his father and give his opinion.
Three days later, this 80-year-old man and his 54-year-old son appeared in this cardiologist’s office for an exam. As it turned out, the man did not need a pacemaker. In the course of obtaining a complete history, the cardiologist asked this elderly Jewish man where he was born and where he was during the war. Pieces of information flowed and the doctor was able to do the math and ascertain that this man’s son was actually born in the concentration camps.
The elderly gentleman explained that the other women in the camp would give their food rations to his wife so that she would have the strength to nurse this child. Miraculously, this little Jewish boy went undiscovered for two years until the day when the entire camp was liberated.
But there is more to the story.
The elderly gentleman explained to the doctor that he would take his young infant son out to the work fields with him and hide him under his shirt. It’s difficult to imagine how this went on for two years, but it did.
It almost didn’t. One afternoon, a coworker, a man who had not much left to live for himself, turned to the new father and remarked how cruel and selfish it was for this father to raise a child under such conditions. “Do your son a favor and end his life. You have brought him into a world of pain and darkness.”
“If you are suggesting I kill my son, forget it. He is the only love I feel in a world of hate. I can’t and I won’t kill him.”
The other man would not be denied and grabbed the child from underneath the man’s shirt. You will excuse the graphic nature and description. He proceeded to compress the life out of the newborn.
The new father removed his shirt, wrapped his son in it, and proceeded to place his son in a newly formed pit in the ground. His love was gone, or so he thought.
Seconds later, as he shoveled a mound of dirt, he heard the cries of his child, his only child. And more than a half a century later, that son accompanied his father to the cardiologist’s office in New York—years, tears, miles, and a lifetime of love away from the horrors of the concentration camps.
An interesting postscript. When the patient relayed this story to the cardiologist, the doctor realized that the son turned white and faint. It seems that the father had never shared the details of that afternoon when love was almost extinguished for eternity, until that day in the doctor’s office.
Until that afternoon, the son knew only the love father and son shared, but not the pain.
My life with my children to date might not be as dramatic. But the love my wife and I have for our children is just as deep as the love that man had for his son in the hell of the Holocaust and in the comfort of liberation. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.