Mike's words of remembrance followed by Marianne's
Today I learned that at 7:18 AM every morning, Dad’s iPhone alarm flashes in all caps, “GET YOUR ASS UP!”
7:18 - He picked this time to, yes, be awake before Jean, his Aide, faithfully arrived. But why 18 minutes after the hour and not 20, he was reminding himself that sometimes life is hard and he was choosing to live life to the fullest extent possible. You see, the Hebrew characters that make up the Hebrew alphabet are also the same characters used for Hebrew Numbers. So, the number 18 also spells the word “life.” The “Get your ass up,” part - He was a funny guy.
At every turn he chose life. And with one look at him, you knew he was a fierce contender psyching himself up along with everyone around him to achieve greatness. Even his van’s license plate read I-L-U-V-1-8. I Luv 18. I love life.
As you all know, he maintained his dignity until the end. He succeeded on his own terms. He maintained his self sufficiency and independence until the end. He did it his way. He was a stubborn Seidman until the end.
Dad was a fan of Richard Bach’s books. One quote in particular strikes a common chord with Dad. “Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.”
Here are some snippets to understand where Dad was coming from. Dad was an achiever. He read anything once, and he knew the material cold. His Dad passed away when he was 14. My grandmother new he was going to be a doctor before he did. He was his high school valedictorian. A Harvard chemistry major. A Harvard MD. But he never let you know it. He hooked the women of his dreams at age 13 and married her some years later. With only a set of plans and an instructional manual, he would create beautiful woodwork. He built a full sized antique style baby crib for my sister’s dolls and a kitchen trestle table for our 1835 colonial house in Westborough.
People would comment to my Mom, “I saw the gardener working in the yard with mustache, cutoff shorts and a bandana around his head. His hair was almost shoulder length. Mom would laugh and say, “that’s my husband.”
With admiring eyes, I watched and learned as he explained why and how he used each tool for trimming hedges, home repairs or wood working. When I was 5, he built a small workbench for me with and gave me my own set of screw drivers, a hand drill, a coping saw, a plane, a vice and some spare wood. I watched and was given latitude to learn by doing.
He was drafted into the Navy and trained for a MASH unit during the Vietnam conflict. He was scared, with a bride of 3 years and a 6 month old baby. Through some luck and diplomatic maneuvering, he stayed stateside throughout his tour including a year on the Island of Vieques heading up the Marine base’s hospital. He spent his free time snorkeling for beautiful shells while in the company of a munitions expert. One had to be careful of unexploded ordinance when swimming in an aerial bombing range. He also took advantage of the opportunity to learn to speak passable Spanish. He never stopped looking for opportunities to practice his language skills. I watched and learned.
Within every organization he joined, he was not content to be merely a member. Dad was driven to be in a position of leadership. He was off to treat patients each morning and frequently came home late only to leave shortly after gobbling down dinner to go to some meeting or another. He started in the Pulmonology department at Framingham Union Hospital, and then went on to build and launch the Pulmonary department at the newly built University of Massachusetts Medical School where he also taught as an Assistant Professor. During this time, he became a director with the Massachusetts Lung Association and later the president of the National Association for Medical Directors of Respiratory Care, a group that lobbies for air quality and OSHA standards. He was always the leader, striving to leave his successor better positioned than he was when came on the scene. When the PLS kicked in forcing him to retire early from from the Chief of Pulmonary Medicine at Worcester Memorial Hospital, Dad took up medical ethics as a board member of Lahey Hospital. I watched and learned.
To my recollection, there were several times he introduced me to a patient of his. He must have had a good bedside manner because they all conveyed a sincere message of appreciation for something he did. One patient, a WWII fighter pilot, expressed his thanks by giving him his first flying lesson. Also, I remember picking up Mr. McGrath, another patient, in our Volvo station wagon with an aluminum canoe on the roof. We were going fishing at Whitehall Reservoir. Mr. McGrath was sick with lung cancer but he was determined to show us his favorite fishing spots. We talked fishing the whole time, so I never really learned what my dad did to get his patients to like him so much. I watched and learned.
Judaism was always important to Dad and he practiced it in his own way. With blend of a spiritualism, tradition, science and personal preference. He and Mom raised us with often contradictory practices that Dad’s rationale couldn't explain. Cheeseburgers were OK, but never with a glass of milk. No pork was ever served, but on Sundays we woke to the smell of pancakes and bacon wafting up the stairs. Mind you, we had fleishic and milkic place settings and chose the one that seemed to make the most sense for the meal in front of us. Westborough didn’t have many Jews, but my parents were founding members of Congregation B’nei Shalom. Many of the services were lay led and Dad was on the High Holiday Committee. He and Michael Baron, another doc in his department, sang Kol Nidre together for many years growing up. He was a strong tenor with a soothing tone. He sang “Love is a many splendid thing” to my mom at their wedding. For the past several years, no matter who is singing Kol Nidre, I hear only his voice while struggling to hold back a tear or two knowing it exists in my head alone. I don’t think that will ever change. Once retired Dad and Mom took Jewish adult education classes and never stopped reading and studying a wide range of topics. Here at Brooksby he was a member of the Jewish council and enjoyed selecting a monthly movie with a Jewish theme to screen for the community. Feed the mind has always been his mantra. I watched and learned.
Growing up, we didn’t get a lot of time with him, but the time we got was quality time. He and mom would take a vacation without kids and one with kids every year. They would travel the world without us and then take us camping in the Whites, to Disney, the Yucatan and Israel. Dad loved being in the outdoors. We would often take family hikes, sometimes with other families too. Dad encouraged Marianne and I by awarding tinfoil medals for climbing mountains when we were little. He spoke about the dangers smoking cigarettes to our schools. He taught first aid, astronomy, and aviation merit badges to my scout troop. Due to that flying lesson I told you about earlier, he was a part owner of 3 successive airplanes, each one faster, more complex and capable than the last. For many summers, he was a frequent attendee at the largest airshow in the world, Oshkosh. Sometimes he’d go with his partner in the plane, sometimes with Mom and once with me. He flew us to many day trip locations. My favorites were Katama Beach, Nantucket and Block Island. Sometimes we would just fly around and land at an airport for a meal. He was a regular on the tennis court and although I came close a couple of times, I never beat him. Work hard, play hard. I watched and learned.
From Framingham, to Harvard, the Navy, Watertown, Needham, Westborough, Brookline NH, Woburn and eventually to Brooksby, family, community and friendship was important to Dad. College friends, professional friends, friends from his recreational activities, friends that were neighbors, people he met in his travels, people Mom introduced to him, he loved, respected and appreciated them all. He was truly thankful for all of you even if he didn’t say it.
Dad persevered with unconditional love and support for all of us no matter what. Although he sold his Porsche 911 months before I got my driver's license, he encouraged me drive his replacement, a 280ZX and later a Dodge Stealth. He was patient with the scratches and dents I put in the cars. He also encouraged me to fly his airplane with total trust. We shared many hours in the air honing our skills. He was honorable, complicated and not always easily understood. He was always late to everything. He lived his dreams and earned his place in life. He was denied the retirement he believed he was due and in these last few years he summoned up more courage and patience than any person should need to, just to make it through the day. Instead of the finale, he and we wish he had, he instead relished in encouraging his grandkids to just be themselves. Max,Carly, Shoshanna, and Elianna, although we can no longer watch and learn from Grandpa, we have his story to learn from, do as he would want us to and teach others his lessons.
Dad, thank you for:
Giving so much to this world
Instilling your love of the mountains, seas and air in me
Thanks for understanding when you really didn’t
Thanks for trusting me to play with your toys
Thanks for fixing your toys when I broke them, and not killing me
Thanks for teaching me how to love unconditionally
Marianne's words of remembrance
Super Joel. That’s who he was to me…Super Joel. And I was his Princess. He was his own type of superhero but not the kind you may be thinking. Growing up with a superhero can be challenging. They are always there when you don’t want them to be, they can see things you don’t want them to see and they know things you don’t want them to know. My friend, Dorit and I coined this phrase as we moved into our dorm rooms senior year at U of Rochester. Dad had packed my car not only with all my regular stuff but also with my queen sized waterbed on top of the car. As we unpacked the car we could not believe how the knots were tied, how he fit everything in and still left room for me to see out the back. We kept talking and realized, there was not much he could not do – our own Super Joel.
I would love to tell you what made him a superhero in my eyes.
Not every superhero can fly but Super Joel could – literally. Dad took advantage of a free flying lesson and parlayed that into a passion. He took lessons at Westboro airport, soloed and went on to own 2 different planes. But in my eyes, he could use his power of flight to take our family on so many adventures. From dinner in NH, to a day in Nantucket to 6 different colleges in 4 days, flying was always an adventure. He always marveled at Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s ability to describe flight and wanted to experience it himself. Through his ability of flight he taught me that you can obtain your dreams. Find them, work hard and you too can be flying through the air – whatever that is for you. For him the challenge of flying brought him joy and happiness.
He taught me to find what brings me joy and happiness and embrace it. Whether that was playing my clarinet, playing a hard game of tennis against him (he won every match except one), getting into my reach school, joining a sorority, obtaining a job I never thought I could, marrying the perfect person, raising two amazing children, and so much more.
He had Super Strength ~ Not the type that can bend steel with his bare hands, the type that made him who he was. He was strong in so many ways. You would think that his disease would make him weaker but the opposite happened. The more the disease took over, the stronger he became. This strength was evident in so many parts of his life. Being raised by a widowed mom, he was determined to become a doctor. His strength and perseverance pushed him to do well in high school, attend Harvard and then Harvard Medical School (of course with mom’s help).
I also like to think his stubbornness is part of his strength. This “Seidman” stubbornness pushed him to stay independent. It didn’t matter how hard something was to reach, how hard it was to button his shirt, how long it took him to eat a meal, he was going to do it and do it himself. As many of you know, both Mike and I have inherited this super trait and I couldn’t be more proud. Thanks to him, I am an independent, driven woman who does not like to give up. He taught me that hard work and strength will help me reach my goals and succeed in whatever I put my mind to, except maybe Physics!
He could save people ~ Super Joel was not just a doctor but an amazing doctor. Over the years, we have heard from his patients that he was warm, caring, and had the best bedside manner. As a dad, he saved me so many times but it was rare that he ever got mad at me. Whether it was the garage door “falling off”, slamming my door so hard that it broke my bedroom window, or fighting over my college essays, dad was always there to get me out of a bind. Of course each time, there was a lesson to be learned: you break something, you need to fix it; removing the door so I couldn’t slam it again, or making me write my essays over and over again so I could get into the school of my choice. Of course, each time he was right. Yes, he could get mad and when he did we knew to stay clear!
But he also saved me from making bad decisions. The one that comes to mind is when Rich and I were dating and my parents came to take me to dinner when I sprained my ankle. After talking about our relationship, my father looked at me and said, “can you imagine your life without him?” It was his saying that phrase that I knew I had found the right person.
As I mentioned, dad was a double Harvard Grad – Super Smart. But he wasn’t just book smart. He was smart in so many ways. We always joked that he would have made a killing on Jeopardy. He knew so much about so many things: science, numbers, music, trivia, cooking, history and when we challenged him, he was 99.9% correct. You could never win a bet with him.
But he was also smart in an observing kind of way. He knew what others felt and how they were affected in different situations. I could call him or walk in a room and immediately he knew there was something wrong. He could sit back, observe a situation and he knew how to help. This could really be seen over the last couple of years when he couldn’t speak. You could read his facial expressions and know when he approved of something and when he didn’t, when he knew someone needed a loving glance and when they didn’t or when someone needed a good hug – he loved hugs.
When I was 12, I had to have hand surgery at a hospital in Wellesley – about 45 minutes from Westboro. Dad knew I was nervous, so on the drive there, he played Simon and Garfunkle’s song, “The Boxer.” He didn’t just turn it up, he blasted it, telling me to listen to certain parts of the song that really stood out for him. We sang the chorus together and it calmed me down and made me appreciate the power of music. It was just what I needed exactly when I needed it.
Speaking of music - his love for it was amazing. He loved everything from classical to Broadway to rock to country to current hits. To this day I can still sing all the words to “Grandma’s Feather Bed” by John Denver, a fellow pilot in his own right, and a favorite of Dad’s. He was also an amazing vocalist. He won starring roles in school plays, sang Kol Nidre at Yom Kippur services and serenaded mom any chance he could. Although he lost his voice, you could tell he was still singing inside.
Super Funny ~ He wasn’t a stand up comic, but he had a wicked sense of humor. Even as a young girl, I remember him reading a book with me called CDB. It was a book of letters and pictures that depicted sentences. We thought it was so funny. He loved sarcastic and stupid humor. He loved bad jokes and he was good at telling them. He sent us jokes constantly and every chance he made to use a pun, he would take it. I will miss sharing jokes with him because at times, I knew he would be the only one who would get my jokes and laugh at them.
He was also Super Proud but not in the ego type of way. He was proud of what he had accomplished, he was proud of his life, he was proud of everything he did. As strange as it may sound, he was proud to have had PLS. If you asked him how his health was, he’d say “excellent” with his famous giggle.. He was proud that the Red Sox won another pennant and he was proud that the Patriots brought home another Superbowl trophy. He was especially proud of his marriage to my mom, of brother and me and his 4 grandchildren. He kfelled at each of the bar and bat Mitzvahs and was even able to not only make a speech at all 4 of them but also to have an aliyah at Shosh and Elianna’s just not with his own voice but that of a computer.
Super Love ~ It’s interesting that what I wrote about my mom, also fits for my dad. This is why they were perfect for each other. He was empathetic, caring, concerned and loved deeply and with his whole heart. Once you entered his heart, you had a place forever. He would do anything for those he loved. He and mom showed us what true love is...Rich and I are so blessed to have them as role models for what marriage should be. Is it all roses? No and that’s the beauty of their relationship. He loved his family more than anything else. He loved being a grandfather, he was proud of everything we did and I know they’re both looking down on us with love. Guiding us with their spirit. I hope I can one day to pass these traits along to my girls as well.
Dad was my superhero and my idol. I think most little girls feel this way about their dad at some point in their life. However, the older I get, the more I feel this way. He fought an amazing fight with dignity, grace, and humor and never gave up. He had his famous sparkle in his eyes and smirk on his face until the end. As the song goes:
Did you ever know that you're my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.
Fly high dad…visit all the places you would like to visit. Enjoy being strong both physically and mentally and most of all, hug mom and enjoy being with her again – the way I remember you both.