Edie Weinstein had a tough South Philly Street Kid father who showed her that being a woman was a good thing.
When I was 18 or so, I came home from college on a Friday night in April. As was our ritual, we would have dinner and go to services. My mother stayed home that night and my sister and I accompanied my dad. There was a freak snow storm, so when we arrived, we saw that there were only 7 others there, including the rabbi.
My father announced that since there were now 10 of us present, we should be able to start. In the Jewish religion, there is a need for 1o (called a Minyan) for certain prayers to be said. The rabbi responded that they still needed to wait for 2 more men.
My father again spoke up and said that “My daughters should count,” since we had both become Bat Mitzvah when we were 13 and thus were considered adult members of the congregation.
“That’s very nice,” the rabbi replied condescendingly and still insisted that we wait. Just so you know, this was the same rabbi who when he initially met my mother, she had to point out to him “My eyes are up here.”
Thirty minutes later, 2 more congregants with the proper ‘plumbing’ came through the door and the service commenced. I was grateful that my father had spoken up even though I was simultaneously angry that he didn’t take the ultimate stand and leave with us.
My father, Morris Harry Weinstein (a.k.a. Moish) was a first generation American born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents who came to America to flee the pogroms in their native land and to discover the proverbial ‘streets paved with gold.’ Although his jobs weren’t glamorous; milk man and bus driver, we always had food, shelter, clothing, toys, books and vacations. He would get up at 4 a.m. to make the 45 minute commute from our suburban South Jersey town of Willingboro, to Philadelphia, 5 days a week. When he came through the door, tired and grimy, he was glad to see us and we would greet him with hugs and “Daddy’s home!”
He would hop into the shower, join us for dinner and play time. He was never ‘the babysitter’ who ‘helped with the kids,’ as were many men of his generation. He was the daddy, the one who taught us to ride bikes, fly a kite, roller skate, plant a garden and yes…..box.
He had been a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy and still had the equipment. When my sister and I would argue, as siblings are wont to do, he would break out the gloves and headgear and say “Ok, go at it.” Supervised for safety, we would playfully swat at each other. It’s a good thing I have always been a pacifist, or I would have developed a mean right hook.
My dad raised us to be both kids and girls. Although there were times when we were expected to be ‘ladies’, we did our fair share of getting dirty and playing rambunctiously.
And there were no proscribed gender roles when it came to household responsibilities. Although my mother was the parent who spent the most time with us, when he was home, he would cook (generally breakfast), do chores (he would call vacuuming-“mowing the carpet”), wash clothes and clean the garage, which ususally meant moving the junk from one side to the other. I loved helping him in the garden, getting my hands and knees muddy as we planted, weeded and harvested the bounty.
On Sunday mornings, he would take us with him to Jerry and Joe’s Deli to pick up bagels, lox and cream cheese and then go to the weekly gathering of boys at our synagogue who both prayed and did activities together. Jan and I broke the gender barrier and then other girls were invited as well.
I have fond memories of sitting in High Holy Day services with his tallis (prayer shawl) wrapped around me as well, back when girls and women didn’t wear them. He took great joy in seeing me dressed up in ‘girl clothes’ and makeup and expressed that being feminine was a positive thing that didn’t mean I was weak.
When he retired from his full time job as a bus driver at age 65, he and my mother moved to Ft. Lauderdale where he took a part time job working in a gym/skating rink/bowling alley. It kept him occupied and financially supported for 18 more years until Parkinson’s Disease took its toll on this formerly robust man who sported six pack abs into his 70’s. When I would call to check on him and ask how he was feeling, his response would often be “Disgusted. Your mother has to do all these things for me that I used to do for myself.”
Toward the end of his life, our roles reversed and I became the one who would provide comfort and a hand to hold in the face of his fears when once upon a time he would hoist me on his shoulders when we went into the ocean and at The Mummers Parade on New Years Day so I could see above the crowd.
From my father, I have learned resilience and a stubborn intensity. He offered what I called ‘Moishisms’; bits of wisdom such as “They put their pants on one leg at a time just like you do,” so I wouldn’t be easily intimidated. “Your life is in the hands of any fool who makes you lose your temper,” helps keep me centered when my buttons get pushed.
Two memories leap into my consciousness from my childhood. When he was a milkman and jumped off the truck, his wedding ring got caught on the hinge of the door and sliced his finger in such a way that it needed to be sewn back on. If memory serves, he went right back to work. On a white out blizzard day, he was unable to get the car out of our neighborhood to get to work, so he walked and hitchhiked to the closest highway where he was able to catch a bus into the city. He could justifiably have stayed home, but his steadfast sense of responsibility to his employer and his family wouldn’t allow for that.
I am my father’s daughter in a multitude of ways. I chafe at the idea of being incapacitated in any manner. I am ultra responsible, not wanting to disappoint or let anyone down. I have little compassion for the aspects of myself that need TLC, seeing it as loss of control. I wonder if he taught me too well to be an independent woman. I question whether it makes me less of a feminist if I were allow a man to take care of me sometimes. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty literally or figuratively as I roll up my sleeves and dig in to what is before me, knowing that the man with the work roughened hands that changed diapers, danced with me on his feet when I was little , patched up skinned knees, cried and laughed with me is now beaming from Heaven, cheering me on with his Philly accented voice “You can do it, doll baby!”
Photo: Flickr/Rodrigo Amorim