Sunday, March 16, 2008

Not all great men are famous men

I was 17 when this picture was taken, eagerly looking ahead to my adult life as I sat with my dad at College Night listening to someone talk about some college I never attended.

My dad was 41, 41 years ago, and my final spring at Woodson turned out to be the halfway point of his life on earth.

I didn't appreciate him then. He was pushing me to excellence and I was resisting. I suppose I won our battle, although I turned out to be the one who had to live with the results.

Norman Rappaport was classic Greatest Generation. He was born in 1926 to immigrant parents, grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and served in the final year of World War II as an 18-year-old soldier.

He went to work for the government after the war, married at age 30 and raised five children. He was married to the same woman for nearly 52 years, and probably the defining thing anyone could say about him is that he loved his wife and children so much that he always put them first.

He never bought expensive suits or drove flashy cars. In fact, he almost had to be forced to ever spend any money on himself.

He wanted to be a writer, and two friends from college who were both very successful writers said he was the most talented of the three of them. I suppose one of the things I did that made him proud was making a living as a writer for nearly 30 years.

He wasn't an easy man to understand, and I didn't always appreciate his parenting style. But before I became a father myself, I realized that in many ways, he was the finest man I ever met.

Everything good I am as a father myself -- and I've been told I am a great dad -- is due to him and the things I learned from him.

I don't write about him often. My parents don't like it when I write about them, but I figure today is a good day to make an exception to that rule.

You see, my dad died this morning.

As I said, he was 82. The picture taken was half a lifetime ago, but it says a lot about him. He was listening attentively where I probably wasn't, not only giving up an evening for College Night but making the most of it.

He was more than special.

He was my dad.


Anonymous said...

I cried when Mike called this afternoon and told me his father, Norman, had died.

Afterwards, I wondered why I had reacted so strongly.

I knew Norman had been very ill for a long time. I knew he had suffered severely, and that his wife Yvonne, who had shouldered much of the caregiving duties, had also suffered with him. Through many close calls and hospitalizations, she had been there for him.

Now, with Mike telling me that Norman had slipped quietly and without suffering from this realm, I knew his suffering was over. Now, Mike's mother would not have bear such a hard burden. While sad, the news ought to have produced in me more of a relief, perhaps.

Still, I cried -- and tears continue to flood my eyes even as I type this because I loved Mike's father. Norman Rappaport was a good man. Oh, and before someone thinks I am viewing his passing through rose-colored glasses, let me assert this -- Norman was not perfect. He had his flaws as we all do. He was not the "perfect" father, but who among us can make that claim?

He was, however, a caring father andwhat's more, Norman was a devoted husband and a man who carried the burdens of life without complaint.

He sacrificed much for the sake of his family.

I think my tears were for myself -- for the world is a little more lonely and little colder today without Norman Rappaport. It is a poorer place.

There are memories. Years of them, to be sure, to recall.

Together with Mike and his son, Norman and I filled out a golfing foursome a few years back -- and I will always remember that day -- not for the scores or the good weather, but rather for the good fellowship.

Memories were made that day which will endure for my lifetime.

Songwriter/singer Joni Mitchell's words continue to haunt our generation: "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone..."

I stop in and often peruse your clan's blogs on this "Journey Back to Woodson" site not because I attended your school, but because so many of my friends did.

(I would have, but Fairfax County opened Oakton High School and there's where I misspent the latter days of my youth.)

The fact that some many of us recall a more innocent time when we misspent our youth is the core of what I wanted to write about Norman -- and the men and women who were like him in that "Greatest Generation."

They are -- or were -- our parents or our parent's friends or the parents of our friends in that most unusual time. The last era of innocence.

It was the Norman Rappaports of this country who made our memories possible, their sacrifices paved the way for our indulgences of youth.

I will miss Norman, although I didn't have much opportunity to see him over the past decades. I last saw him at Mike's daughter wedding two summers ago. When he saw, he embraced me heartily, and after catching up on family news, Norman sat and listened to my youngest sing Cosette's song from "Les Miserables."

When she finished, Norman smiled broadly and then bathed her in wonderful approbations about her talents that thrilled her and made me proud.

Just as only a select few know how to tell a joke, Norman was one of those few people who really knew how to give a compliment.

He knew how to make you feel valued and appreciated.

And that is something sorely lacking in today's world.

So, I will miss Norman.

And I honor him today, not just because he was Mike's father and Yvonne's devoted husband, but because he was my friend, too.

And I will miss my friend, Norman.

Mick Curran

Dale Morgan said...

Mike - my sincere condolences. I lost my Dad in 1992 and I miss him as much today. My college roommate is here this week spending time with me and almost every topic we have talked about included stories about her Dad or my Dad and we continue to keep them alive and with us that way. But I do remember that it was very hard when he did pass away. It will get easier as time goes by, but keep remembering all the great stories. Again, my thoughts are with you, buddy.

Anonymous said...

My condolences on your loss.
John Lodge

Dena said...

Dear Mike, how is your heart, two weeks after the death of your wonderful father? You did a very good thing, writing a precious tribute to him. As you know, unfortunately, losing a parent is a complicated life event. I bow to you as you navigate your life amidst the big changes you have been describing to us.

~ Dena

Darla said...

Mike, I am so very sorry about your loss of your dad. I know how hard it is, I lost mine almost 10 years ago. He too had suffered and I know he is in a much better place. I'm always here if you need to talk.
Most Sincerely,
Darla Garber