Peter Seth: Fathers and sons and fathers

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Great news!  I’m going to become, for the first time, a grandfather on December 12th.  My son Jesse’s wife Katrina is going to have a baby boy, and I couldn’t be happier.  All my friends who are grandparents are having so much fun with their grandkids that I can’t wait to get in on the action.

My happiness exists on many planes.  First, for the young couple.  Jesse and Katrina are a wonderful couple, very much in love, who have been together for about eight years and are “ready” for a baby.  They’ve lived some, learned some, traveled some, and now they’re ready to build their family.  They are both artists and teachers and will make terrific parents.  They both have big hearts, big imaginations, and a limitless reservoir of love and support to draw from.

Next, my wife – the Tiny Goddess – is going to be a grandmother.  That cute little blonde from that little room in Kober Hall at Sarah Lawrence College is going to a “hot grandma.”  Actually, I can’t think of a better grandma to have than my wife.  (All apologies to the baby’s other grandmother, Katrina’s mother Cheryl.)  The Tiny Goddess is such a diligent person — so thorough, so trustworthy – that the young parents will be able to leave the baby with her and have a sense of total security.  My wife leaves nothing to chance.  And she has so many good stories and family legends to tell the baby, so many books to read to him, that she’s as excited as I am.

And for me?  My father died about six months before my son was born, so I’ll get the opportunity to experience something that my dad never did: seeing that big, nice turn of the Wheel of Life for myself — when your baby has a baby.

I think back to my grandfathers – Abraham Robinson (my father’s father) and Nathan Poreback (my mother’s father.)  Both were interesting men.  Abe was a CPA for the Port Authority in New York, which was a very good job, especially during the Depression.  He was a tough, dry man who was nice to my brother and me, but I think he was a hard disciplinarian as a father – which I think is one of the reasons that my dad was such a softie. Abe did fifty push-ups every morning of his life.  “Not fifty-one!  Not forty-nine!  Fifty.”  He was that kind of guy.  He died when he was eighty-six, hit by a panel truck in a snowstorm, when he was on the way to the post office with packages to mail for some of his neighbors.  He was also thatkind of guy.  I still have some of the silver dollars I won “hunting for matzoh” at his and sweet Grandma Rosie’s apartment on President Street in Brooklyn, the same street I was born on.  I’ll pass them onto Jesse, who will pass them onto his son.  Which is as is should be.

My other grandfather – Nathan, or “Nuchem” in Yiddish – was a little more exotic.  He was a corpulent man with a thick Russian immigrant’s accent, unlike Grandpa Abe’s flat Brooklyn rasp.  Nuchem was born in Russia and was the son of a scribe for the Tsar.  As such, he had cultural pretensions.  When he came to America, he didn’t become a CPA or anything practical like that.  He became a paid member of a claque at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  A claque is an organized group of operagoers who hire themselves out to provoke or prolong applause for a certain singer (who pays them, through intermediaries, in tickets and pennies), or conversely, to boo, whistle, hiss or catcall at the rivals of the paying artist.  The claque has a long, dishonorable, dying tradition in the great opera houses of the world.  Grandpa Nuch’ claqued for Rosa Ponselle, Giovanni Martinelli, and Lawrence Tibbett, among others.  (Ponselle was arguably the greatest American soprano of all time; the Italian Martinelli was one of the definitive dramatic tenors of his era; Tibbett is on the short list of greatest American baritones ever.)  In fact, because Martinelli’s most celebrated role was Radames in Verdi’s Aida, Nuchem wanted to name my mother “Aida.”  But my very practical Grandma Mollie forced a compromise, and they named my mother “Ada.”

Grandma Mollie, who later divorced Nuchem’s lazy, charming ass, let him hang around the family.  She gave him money.  He also liked professional wrestling and used to bring me postcards of wrestling heroes like Bruno Sammartino and Argentina Apollo.  He smelled like Chicklets.

I’m pretty sure that I can do as well as Grandpa Abe and Grandpa Nuchem.  Maybe even better.

 

What It Was LikeThis post originally appeared on Peter Seth’s blog. Peter is the author of the thrilling What It Was Like.

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On December 20, 2014
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