Death and mortality for manly men and “tough cookies” like my Dad are difficult concepts to grasp. A part of me thought he would live forever like the big oak trees in our yard on Berkeley Road in Highland Park. When I think of my father I automatically associate his stout oak tree like physique with his strength, athleticism, august reputation and leadership among men of equal social status and a certain kind of traditional masculinity and well-dressed appearance that fit him to a T. His clothes closet, like the man himself, was well organized and ship-shape at all times. He used those wooden shoe holders and solid wood hangers and wouldn’t think to hang his nice clothes on cheap plastic. My Dad epitomized old-school masculinity and personal values. He didn’t use a computer. He didnt like to be driven in a car by other people and he preferred his hamburgers and filets charred on the outside but rare and tender on the inside, again sort of like his M&M candy personality. Of course if my mother let him he probably would have also liked a big baked potato with sour cream and DEFINITELY something chocolate for dessert. In general, my father saw the world as pretty black and white and you needed to decide which side you were on. He rarely equivocated and unlike some people and certain politicians he was NOT a flip-flopper.
Being a man of principle and purpose, my father didn’t have much use for abstract ideas, art or avante-garde theater unless it was ballet, Opera or Broadway shows like Oklahoma and West Side Story. He really loved that stuff….and good Jazz as well. The clarity of his tastes and his hyper-masculine preferences sometimes made me question my more complex and contradictory self. For example, I get easily confused by opposing viewpoints (about anything) if they are well reasoned and regularly lose my car keys, wallet, and even my car at the shopping mall. But my Dad always left his keys in the same place (usually a specific dish near the front door) and when it came to sports he first chose a side to play on and then threw the ball and swung the bat or tennis racquet as hard as he could. Like his baseball playing grandson Mitch, he almost always made contact and rarely struck out. I wont say he didn’t believe in bunts or “drop shots” but honestly, he rarely used them and probably considered them to be a tad “wimpy” . Similarly, my father hit the “ball of life” hard, fast, and low and played to win whether it was Monopoly, politics, chess, business or baseball. I know this because it took me forever to beat the guy in anything. He was practically in a wheelchair on oxygen when I finally was able to beat him in tennis and even then it was pretty darn close.
Over the last couple months at home in Atlanta I thought of my Dad quite often and also about his approaching fate. By the time you reach 90 years old, destiny pretty much stares you in the face on a daily basis. Being old, weak, incapacitated or dependent on others was not something my Dad ever liked one bit. He was as they say a “man’s man”. One night my eyes caught on a particular shelf in my son Eli’s room that displays some of the glass jars that my wife Rona hand decorated before she herself passed away in 1999. She was half my father’s age, only 45 years old when she died of lung cancer. Rona, like my mother was more into art and creative expression than say my macho father was. I probably learned from my mother how to express my more artistic side…but it didn’t really blossom until much later in life. By contrast, as a young child growing up in Highland Park my older brother Neal showed an early aptitude for art, design, sculpture, pottery making, photography, cooking, and completing very sophisticated plastic models. At the time I was busy playing with my plastic army men in the basement or back yard, grouping them together and then blowing them up with lighter fluid, cherry bombs and fireworks. I remember my Dad working very very long and difficult hours back then building his chemical business from the ground up while I was busy eating Twinkies and blowing things up. After a very long day at the office or following many out-of-town business trips he would sit in the study upstairs late at night and dutifully pay mountains of bills, carefully writing out checks, addressing and licking the stamps for each and every one. (Now my sister Julie does that particular task for my Mother and I really appreciate it). Meanwhile, our basement on Brittany Road was often on fire, either due to my wayward chemistry experiment or more likely me choosing to blow up one of Neal’s highly complex and sophisticated plastic models. I suppose after watching so many old movies on TV after school I thought that was what “real men” were supposed to do…work hard, do scientific experiments, win medals and blow stuff up. I didn’t really learn about the “softer”, receptive, or more feminine side of life until much later. In fact, my creative “Yin” side probably didnt surface until after I was married and had kids myself. My wife Rona and I would take all three boys into the basement of our big brand new East Cobb house in Marietta, Georgia (which I continually renovated into about 89,000 “bonus” rooms for no good reason) and she would paint glass jars while I would spray paint everything else in the universe. Like my maternal grandmother Lilian Glantz and her gold spray paint obsession, I didn’t realize that good antiques were supposed to remain untouched and left to age gracefully while taking on their own natural “patina” (see any episode of Antique Roadshow). Looking back on it now, even with my Ph.D. in Psychology I didn’t know much about my own psychological shadow parts and why opposites very often attract in art, science and sometimes even in a good marriage. I think maybe my Dad skipped over all the complicated psychological stuff and just chose to absolutely positively love my mother unconditionally. That’s something almost everybody remember about him. He worked hard, swung the bat hard and loved my mother unconditionally.
All I really mean to say by all this is that my father, Robert Mazer modeled a lot of good things for many many people. Many of them grew into mighty oak trees and successful human beings with a passion for life and for pursuing their own dreams. Personally I have been writing alot about my father lately, and that personal passion helps me to cope, heal and appreciate him even more. Through writing I increasingly realize which parts of my complicated personality are like my Dad, which aspects are more like my Mom and maybe even which traits are like Lawrence Hiken, Rona Mazer or even Yul Brynner.