My father never belonged in the dry goods business. He was an outdoors kind of guy. A soccer player, a story teller and a kibitzer were his trademarks. In the store he was a nervous wreck of a man.
He kept the books meticulously in his very luxurious swirling Polish handwriting. When I came into the store I would be frightened and very wary. I did not want to trigger one of his outbursts, which were many. I found a corner and stayed out of his way.
My mother, on the other hand, grew and enlarged in the store. In the home she never baked, could not really cook well and was an average or slightly below average housekeeper. In the store she became a dynamo. She could handle three customers at a time and all three imagined she was theirs alone. In the store she never bothered me or even took notice of me. She was intent on moving merchandise off the shelves.
And now my shame. It has never left me. On Mother's Day, Father's Day and Christmas the store boomed. The merchandise flew off the shelves and the National Cash Register clanged.
I woke up that morning before one of those holidays. Should I go into the store and be abused or should I run down to Longfellow Avenue and play stickball and then go to the playground and play basketball with my pals?
I played all day and the guilt started to grow. How could I face my parents, who had worked like peons all day? Yet, I had to go home to face the music.
As I slunk into the apartment my father asked me how I had spent the day. He said in just a few words that I should be ashamed of myself. I was ashamed and really had no answer. I am still ashamed 55 years later.
My mother, "What do you want to eat?" No recriminations, no lashing out, no pointing out my weaknesses - nothing. Just an inquiry about my supper.
Is that the difference between fathers and mothers? Are fathers there to keep us in line and on the straight path? Are they there to be stern and foreboding?
We all know mothers are there just to love us under all conditions.