Tribute to Dad

Tribute to Dad

From Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Tribute to Dad

My father died three weeks after his 80th birthday. No one read about it in the headlines since he’d never invented anything to speak of or lit up the big screen or amassed a huge fortune. His most outstanding achievement was that he was a nice guy. But that seldom makes the headlines. “Harold Halperin, Nice Guy, Dies at Age 80.”

For most of his adult life he owned a corner drugstore with his brother-in-law. It was the old-fashioned kind of store with friendly service, a soda fountain and a gumball machine where the gum still cost a penny and you could even get a “winner” to trade in for a candy bar. Although his customers could have bought their prescriptions cheaper at the chain across the street, they came to my dad’s because his “Hello, Mr. Jones!” did more to heal than any of the drugs.

When he retired at the age of 70, my dad started a second career working for the Hershey Company, stocking candy racks at the local 7-Eleven’s and White Hen Pantries. Although he was supposed to throw away the outdated candy bars, one of his greatest pleasures in life was to share them with the neighborhood kids or bring them to the local soup kitchen for the homeless to enjoy. Everyone called him the Candyman.

His entire illness, from the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to the time he died, was less than four months. Those four months were a gift to him and to us— not long enough for him to suffer a great deal, but long enough for all of us to say our good-byes and to feel complete. It was also a time for me to notice not only who he was but also the way my father gave us his love. I had never taken the time to notice before.

I delivered his eulogy:

Yesterday morning, on the Sabbath, my beautiful father died. When thinking about the words to say at his funeral, I thought, “What tribute can you pay a man whose whole life was a tribute? A tribute to goodness, kindness, caring and generosity. There’s really no need for words because my dad’s life spoke loud and clear enough.”

We all know who Harold Halperin was. He was everyone’s favorite friend. He was everyone’s favorite neighbor. He was everyone’s favorite uncle. He was everyone’s favorite employer. He was everyone’s favorite employee.He didn’t have an enemy in the world. I don’t think there was anyone who knew him that did-n’t love him. He was a gentleman and a gentle man.

Not that he was perfect—no human being is.But in my life, even in the most trying times for him—and there were a few where I really stretched the guy—I never felt for even a moment that he wasn’t there for me with all his heart and all his love.

We’re all going to miss him. I’m going to miss him because he was the only one who told me on a regular basis that I was so beautiful that I should have been a movie star—and really believed it.

The kids will miss him because there was never a more loving grandpa. I wish you could have seen the way he played with his grandchildren. The love in his eyes,the way he adored them—and how they loved him!It was always, “Papa, look at me,” “Papa, come here,” “Papa, watch,”“Papa,play with me!”And there he was, down on the floor with them, not caring how difficult it was to get back up again.

And my mom—what can I say about their love? For 47 years those two were completely devoted to each other. My husband and Mom were talking yesterday and Mom said, “If only you and Debbie could have a marriage like Harold and I had. In 47 years, we never went to bed angry.”To which my husband replied,“Ceil, I think we blew it already.”

One of my most vivid memories of childhood was when my dad would come home from work at 6:30 for dinner. My brother and I would hear him ring the bell—our private joke was that he’d ring it over and over until we got there. We’d be upstairs doing our homework or watching TV and we’d yell to each other, “Daddy’s home, Daddy’s home!” Then we’d race downstairs and open the door and he’d always say, “What took you so long?” It was the highlight of our day when Dad came home.

A second vivid memory was the dinner ritual he had. When we’d be sitting at the table,Daddy would reach over and put his hand on Mom’s arm and say, “Do you two know that you have the most wonderful mother in the world?”He’d say that every night.

And my mom and dad lived his final weeks as they lived the rest of their lives together—my mother loving him and taking care of her darling, precious husband’s every need, 24 hours a day. Doing everything that was humanly possible so that he could die with dignity in his own bed without suffering.

And my dad, with days, even hours, left in his life, was still wanting to make sure everything was taken care of for his wife and family. A few days ago Dad was so weak he could hardly talk, and I was telling him how much I loved him and what a great dad he’d been and how lucky Larry and I were to have him for our father. I was going on and on, pouring my heart out to him, and finally I just said, “I love you so much, Daddy.” At which point he whispered something back to me. At first I couldn’t hear him, so I put my ear close to him and said, “What did you say?” He mustered all his strength and repeated, “Be sure to get the brakes on the Oldsmobile fixed. I don’t want your mother driving without good brakes.”

There’s a lot of press these days about how there are no heroes or great men for our children to look up to. My dad might not have won a Nobel prize, but if you want an example of a great man, you don’t have to look further than Harold Halperin.

Mom and I will never forget how sweet and peaceful you looked on the morning you died, with the sun pouring in the eastern window, illuminating your silver hair as if a thousand angels were dancing around you.

And we’ll never forget that even though the neighbor’s dog barked and barked every night for all the months you were sick, he didn’t make a peep the night you died, but sat as still as stone hour after hour, staring up at your bedroom window as if he were the official guard at heaven’s gate.

So we love you, Daddy. You were as beautiful in death as you were in life. We’ll miss you but will never forget who you were, and we’ll always talk about you and tell our children and our grandchildren about their grandpa who, although he tried to fix major appliances with string and Scotch tape, was in our eyes one of the greatest men who ever lived.

Now go and be with God and be in peace.

We love you.

Debra Halperin Poneman

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