My father and I had a strained relationship. He came from a generation
where nothing of a personal nature was ever discussed. His father was
president of the big bank in Norristown, Pennsylvania and as a young-
ster I remember our holiday visits to this huge home on a hill with a
wooded backyard. With my cousins we would romp through the snow
and play in the woods. My grandfather’s home was similar to what I
experienced on Sycamore Street in Hollywood and later in Santa
Monica. They were all impersonal homes. I never remember my grand-
father conversing about anything. It certainly would explain my
father’s behavior, if indeed environment influences who we become.
We moved to Santa Monica because my parents fell in love with the
beach (he from PA and my mom from Utica, NY), thus my love affair
with the ocean, sun and surfing. He eventually started his own firm in
Santa Monica, the Bay Cities Adjustment Company. Over time we
moved from 14th & Oak to 16th & Carlyle. Throughout all the moves
and years, we never played catch or talked about what was going on
I ran track at Santa Monica High School and starred in many school
productions at Samohi. I was editor of the school newspaper. He never
once came to see me run or see me act. I never thought it was strange
because that’s the way it was. It wasn’t until later in my life, fighting
my own demons, that I was forced to take an inventory of my life. I
wasn’t looking for blame as to why I ended up living in a park in Van
Nuys, but perhaps some understanding.
My father and I went to a football game in the early 80s, the last time
we shared an event together. The drive to the Coliseum seemed inter-
minably long. It was a struggle to talk with him. I asked him about his
exploits at Hill School in Pennsylvania and at Colgate University. He
was strong in sports and some of his championship records remained
for years. I said, “Your parents must have been very proud sitting in
the stands cheering you on.” Without missing a beat, he responded,
“They never saw me play.” Never? Never.
Bingo. That’s all I needed to understand my relationship with my
father. It helped explain his reaction when I told him that I was going
into the radio business. “Why do you want to do that? Hardly a pro-
fession,” I remember him saying. The same reaction when I joined the
motion picture business and when I became a family therapist. My life’s
work and decisions for a career path were always met with indifference
and almost disdain. Even though I have spent decades working on my
own personal relationships, his imprint still resides in me with still
much more work to be done. Perhaps his death will help the process in
Field of Dreams is a signature film for me. I remember sitting on the
aisle at the Motion Picture Academy sobbing like a youngster when
Kevin Costner and his father meet in the Iowa cornfield that has been
converted to a baseball field and they play catch. I know that whoever
wrote that scene had the same kind of father as mine. We never played
catch and through the movie, demons were exorcized for all who had
strained relationships with their fathers. I have never seen that movie
and not been affected in the same way as I did the first time. I know it’s
coming; I fight it and then cry one more time.
When it was no longer safe for him to drive, we talked about giving up
his car. He refused. I took the keys and sold his car. He didn’t acknow-
ledge me for months after that and when I would come into the house he
would just glare at me. He had officially lost his freedom. There was no
longer flight available. Some time later, Russell Weller hit his
accelerator on his car instead of the brakes and mowed down and killed
10 innocent people at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. I went all
through school with Mr. Weller’s daughter, which made my earlier
action to take the keys away from my father all the more personal, even
though I was made to feel guilty for years.
My father has had dementia for at least the last 10 years. It has not
been pretty. Unlike Alzheimer’s, dementia is accompanied by anger.
In 1994 I moved them into a home next door where I could care for
him and also my mother who had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Days
were filled with changing diapers on both of them. With no siblings to
share the burden, I suddenly found myself being a father to my parents
and a father to my young children. When he started throwing his dirty
diapers at me and becoming physically abusive, I had to put him into a
bed and care a year ago where professionals could deal with his needs.
He hasn’t known who I am for years. Perhaps it was that vacant stare
that made the abuse tolerable and I could find some compartment to
keep the feelings and tune it out. Anyone who knows the emotional and
financial challenges of caring for elderly parents can empathize with
the unanswered questions of why life has to end in such an ugly,
painful, and cruel manner.
I saw him Saturday afternoon at his bed and care in North Hills. He was
on his back, face ashen, and struggling to breathe. “Hey, Pop,” I said as
I gently shook his shoulder. “Hey, Pop, how you doing?” No interrup-
tion in his struggle with what turned out to be his last day of sunshine.
He died during the night.
Like my mother, both had chosen the Neptune Society for their burial
at sea. The Neptune Society is unbelievable. I called at 6 a.m. Sunday
morning and within an hour they had picked up my father. They will
arrange to have his body cremated and his ashes strewn in the Santa
We deal with the challenges of life. As I write this, within an hour of his
death, I am moved by the challenges of death – a time to review a life
that was filled with his own demons and challenges. I didn’t choose him
as a father. It is what was dealt to me. I can only hope and pray that he
finds the peace and love in death that eluded him in life.