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.