Father’s Day has stopped me in my tracks. My dad was the best father one could ever ask for – in my eyes at least – but he certainly wasn’t cool.
By the time my siblings and I were old enough to pass judgment, his hair was hopelessly outdated – short-back-and-sides and Brylcreemed flat, but I doubt if it ever looked stylish. His favorite outfits – and he defended them to the hilt – were pastel, polyester safari suits, with short pants. He stammered for a moment when he answered the phone, found most movies confusing, and detested virtually all music after Bing Crosby. He was so anti his daughters wearing mini-skirts, he tried telling us that the backs of women’s knees are ugly and we’d do ourselves a favor if we didn’t reveal them. He might have had a point there, but he tried the same line with regard to waists, to stop us wearing bikinis.
But Sol Durbach was also the ultimate gentleman. Courtesy was so ingrained in him, even in his 80s he’d leap up to take any heavy bag out of a woman’s hands. He was a South African born and bred and conditioned by racism, but he still treated every person he encountered with fairness and kindness. And he was so honest, if he suffered a robbery, he’d claim the depreciated value from the insurance company rather than the replacement cost they offered. He wrote and complained to the Marmite company when they changed the flavor slightly. They sent him a carton of jars in appeasement, and he sent it right back, saying, “Why would I want what I’ve just criticized?” — even though he had carried right on eating it.
He had no sense of color, and so little ear for tone, his music teacher at school asked him to stay silent. To my mother’s regret, he couldn’t dance. But – and this is what she had the sense to recognize at 21 and value for all their five and half decades together – he was capable of total devotion. Right up until he died at 83, he saw her as a princess and himself as the luckiest man in the world. And when we, his kids, meet people who knew him, that one word always comes up: “Gentleman.”
It’s such an old-fashioned word. It went with his stuck-in-the-mud conservatism and dogmatic political views, and it often drove us nuts. But when I look at G at 18, going out into the buffeting larger world, that’s what I hope to see – that adherence to deep-seated values, even when it’s inconvenient, and possibly unprofitable, and probably uncool. Actually, come to think of it, what could possibly be cooler? [Photo: Dad on vacation in about 1958, a man with a clear conscience.]