Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Father’s

Hey, Dad

This week is the first anniversary of my father’s passing.  When I started writing this blog, I didn’t expect my usual nonsense and sex jokes to be interrupted by a phone call asking Sophia and I to fly home to New York.  I certainly didn’t expect to blog about the experience and receive so much comfort from bloggers.  And I most definitely in a million years did not expect bloggers to help us decide what to write on my father’s stone!  Thanks.

Hey, Dad. 

Happy New Year.  Shana Tova.  

You always had a quirky sense of humor, but this takes the cake.   When we all agreed, including my blogging friends, that “Be of Good Cheer” was ideal for the stone in the cemetery it was because that was your “tagline” whenever you said goodbye to someone on the phone.   I figured you picked up that phrase from one of those old British war movies you loved to watch.  Today, I did some research on Google, and guess what?  You got the last laugh! The phrase was popularized by… Jesus!  Of all people, this is who I’m writing about on Rosh Hashana?!  Well, at least he was Jewish.

The idea of “good cheer” is derived from the Greek word tharsei, and the meaning of “cheer” is very different from what we associated today with that word.  Tharsei meant “to dare to be bold,” “to take courage,” “to replace fear with hope.”   The word tharsei is so old, it can even be seen in Homer’s Odyssey. 

The phrase is also found in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, as when Moses is at the Red Sea: 

Two million people were trapped between the sea and the approaching Egyptian army. Escape was humanly impossible. In that moment of supreme crisis, Moses cried out to the people, “Fear not! Stand still and see the miracle of the Lord!” (Exod 14:13).

The idea of “cheering up” now had a slightly different meaning: “Take heart!”

Repeatedly through the Old Testament, God’s people were encouraged to take heart, based on who God is and what God would do. “Fear not, O Zion . . . the Lord your God is in your midst” (Zeph 3:16-17). “Take courage . . . I am with you . . . My Spirit is abiding in your midst; Do not fear!” (Hag 2:4-5).

In the New Testament, tharsei is constantly on the lips of Jesus. 

A helpless paralytic heard Jesus say, “Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). A hopeless woman was told by Jesus, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well” (Matt 9:22). Blind Bartimaeus lived in utter despair until Jesus came to Jericho and they summoned the blind man, saying, “Take heart, arise! He is calling for you” (Mark 10: 49).

This is all fascinating stuff to me because it now makes more sense why you said “Be of Good Cheer.”  I always thought it was odd that you used that phrase, mostly because I interpreted “good cheer” as meaning “go have a good time” or “live it up by drinking a lot of eggnog at the Christmas office party”   You were always a conservative man and you were not the type to tell anyone to “live it up.”  You were too much of worrywart for that.  You worried a lot about everyone — mostly everyone except yourself. 

Your “Be of Good Cheer” was not about fun, but about courage.   As a practical man, you were telling people to be strong, despite the challenges they might meet.  That sounds EXACTLY like something you would say!  Be strong.  Like Penelope warding off suitors as she waits for Odysseus’ return.  Or the Israelites trusting Moses to walk into the Red Sea.  Or a sick beggar trusting that Jesus will make him healthy.

In all these examples, those in need got “cheer” — “courage” — by knowing that something bigger than them was on their side, looking over their shoulder.  You were saying something similar.  You weren’t saying “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and putting all the responsibliity on them.  You were saying, “Don’t Worry.  If you ever need me, I’ll be there.”  

And you were always there, for so many people. 

I can certainly get courage knowing that you are looking over me and Mom.  I will certainly have “good cheer” knowing you will always be around.

Even so, we miss you.

You can read all posts about my father here.

Man in the Mirror

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Every Friday night, a group of Jewish men meet in the apartment building I grew up in and greet the Sabbath.  Most of the men are older or find it difficult to travel to a temple.  Traditionally, you need ten men to form a “minyan,” the group that prays together.  In Judaism, praying in a group during Shabbat is considered more important than praying alone (sorry ladies, traditional Judaism doesn’t count women as part of the minyan). 

I’m not very religious and don’t go to temple very often, but I was honored to be asked to join the minyan for the night.  The leader of the group said it would be a good opportunity for me to say “Kaddish,” the traditional prayer said for the deceased.   I can read Hebrew and know the prayer, but I’ve never stood in front of a group of religious men and said Kaddish out loud in honor of my father.  It was an experience as powerful as my bar mitzvah.   The ancient text praising G-d really leapt off the page for me.  During the service, Kaddish is said three times.  During the first time, my voice was uncertain and croaky, so the leader said the prayer along with me.  But by the last reading, I found my confidence and read it in a strong voice.

When I returned to my apartment, I felt nervous energy coming from my mother and Sophia.  My mother was going through a pile of my father’s paperwork.    He was a real “paper saver” who kept bills and receipts from decades ago.   I showed my mother how to use the shredder I bought my father last year, something he never even plugged in.

Sophia was involved in another matter – our trip home.  When we learned that those so-called “bereavement fares” were a joke (and cost more than the regular fares), we used our American Airlines frequent flier miles to come to New York.    Earlier that day, we learned that if we wanted to, we could make a multi-day stopover anywhere in the continental U.S. on the way back.   Sophia said we could use a few days of rest after the last few weeks of stress and sorrow.  We asked my mother to come along wherever we went, but she wanted to go back to work.   I went through my list of bloggers, thinking whom to visit, but we decided on Albuquerque because I saw that they are having a world-famous International Balloon Festival next week.   We booked the flight, but then we realized the most of the hotels were already filled.  So, when I came back from services, Sophia was all frustrated from trying to find a hotel.   She asked for my help, but I told her I was exhausted.   The week’s tensions were finally hitting me.  Until now, we had all been too busy to feel tired.   From the minute we arrived in New York, it’s been visits to the hospital, arranging for the funeral, and sitting shiva.  I felt my body collapsing and went to my parents’ room and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up in the same bed.  Sophia was sleeping next to me.  My mother was asleep in the living room.   It was pretty early in the morning, but the New York City Sanitation trucks were already rolling outside.   I had a morning hard-on.   I moved against Sophia and she told me to get lost.  “We’re separated, remember?”  Besides, she was up half the night looking for hotels in Albuquerque and was upset that I woke her up.   I went to take a shower.

I turned on the water and stepped inside the shower stall.  It was nice to feel the water against my back.  I’d been so tense.  Still hard, I started playing with myself.   I looked down at my penis and laughed — I remembered being in the exact same spot doing the exact same thing when I was fifteen years old.   Maybe I was just too tired from the last two weeks, but for some reason, after a few minutes, I lost interest in what I was doing.  That would never have happened to me when I was fifteen.

I stepped out of the shower and dried myself off.    Through the closed door, I could hear that my mother was now up.    I could hear the grinding of the shredder ripping up my father’s receipts from 1995.  I could hear that Sophia was now awake also.  I could hear her watching the “Alias” episode that she had taped on my my mother’s ancient VCR.   Well, for a minute, at least.  Then I could hear her telling my mother off for switching channels and taping a Food Channel show and the cable menu instead.

With my cock still up, I couldn’t leave the bathroom… just yet.  I wiped the “fog” from the bathroom mirror and looked at myself standing there.    While we were sitting shiva, we had covered all the mirrors — as is traditional.  Now that the mourning period was over, was my father looking down at me now from heaven?   Do I even believe in that stuff?  And if he is, couldn’t the same be said for my Grandma and my late Aunt Ruthie?  Jeez, are all of my deceased relatives seeing me now with an erection?  How embarrassing. 

But It didn’t seem weird at all to think of my father as I looked at my penis.  After all, the male circumcision is what bonds the Jewish male to the Jewish people.   I remember when I was a little kid, I used to take a shower with my father.  I remember looking forward to the day when I could have hair on my chest and a man’s penis hanging there, not a boy’s penis.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that, as the only son, I’m now the “man of the family.”  But what does that mean?   My father was so much more of a “man” when he was my age.  He had a steady job, a steady marriage, and a son. 

“You have none of these.” I thought I heard my penis say to me.

“You’re right,” I said.   

"You know it’s Rosh Hashana in a few days," my penis continued.

"I do."

"The Jewish New Year is the ideal time to make changes in your life.   You can start to become the man you want to be."

My wants as a man have so far been pretty simple so far:  good Chinese food, the open thighs of a woman, and a subscription to HBO.   Maybe it was time to become as accomplished a man as my father.  To know what it actually means to be a man.

"You stood up and said Kaddish at the minyan.  That’s a good start." said my penis, being encouraging. 

"Thank you," I told my friend.

Sophia knocked on the door.

“Hurry up, Neilochka.  I need to use the bathroom.  And… who are you talking to anyway?”

Really Bad Father’s Day Gift Ideas

A bookmark made with clay beads customized to look like your pet rats.

A "Death Clock" interactive CD telling you how many more years you have to live.

Balltrimmer, America’s #1 male pubic hair trimmer

A cupcake holder that will prevent a cupcake from being bounced, jiggled, or turned upside down.

A painting from the Mafia Art Gallery.

The Bulge, a realistic "package enhancer" for swimsuit or underwear.

A collection of belly button adornments.

A 35mm camera that looks like a medium order of French fries.

The Osama Bin Ladin action figure.

A personalized pair of ear muffs modeled after a woman’s vulva.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I love you. 

Has anyone ever given or received an "interesting" Father’s Day gift that they would like to share?

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