Lessons from my dad about holding on — and letting go

'The Not-So-Hotra Sinatra was going to do it his way.'

Special to The CambrianJune 13, 2013 

As a psychologist and a parent, I know a bit about dads. But with Father’s Day this weekend, I realize that what I really know, I learned from my father.

First, most dads work hard. Mine certainly did. The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, pops grew up during the Great Depression, stood in bread lines and quit school in the eighth grade to work in a bedspring factory. It was all about providing for your family. It was how you expressed love.

You also did it your way. He loved that line from Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.” He’d call himself the “Not-So-Hotra Sinatra” when he’d sing it.

Which is another thing I learned from him: Dads are funny. He’d often joke that his wife should live to 100 and he should live to 101. Someone would inevitably ask why he should live a year longer. He’d reply, “for one year, I should live like a mensch” (Yiddish for a person of dignity).

Ironically, my mom died a year before he got the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He moved in with us on Santa Rosa Creek for his final month. It was then he taught me the last thing I learned about being a dad.

He was growing weaker by the day and in considerable pain, but he wasn’t touching his pain medication. He seemed to be saving it. A few nights before he died, he pulled my brother and me aside and told us why. Before he was going to wear a diaper, he was going to choose his time to exit.

Like that iconic photo of Babe Ruth pointing to where in center field he was going to hit a home run, pops was pointing to where and when he would take his last breath. The Not-So-Hotra Sinatra was going to do it his way.

That night he crawled into bed, and with a shaky hand, took a bunch of sleeping pills, and then as he became drowsy, drank all the pain medication. We sat with him as he slowly passed. It was the last lesson I would learn from him: courage.

Just before he died he turned to us straight-faced and said, “Take my ashes to Las Vegas, dump them on a Texas hold ’em table, and tell them I’m all in.”

Like I said, dads are funny.

Steve Brody lives and practices in Cambria.

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