Episode 60 – Remembering My Father

May 19, 2023

Good morning from New York City. Today I have birthdays on my mind a little bit because the month of May has always been a celebratory month in my family. My brother Randall’s birthday is May 12th. My cousin Carla is May19th. My father Ronald May 20th, and I’m May 21st.

I’d like to talk about my father today but every time I go to do so I get teary eyed, but I want to try not to cry because I really want to honor him and tell you a little bit about him. This podcast is very much an ode to my mother and father, but in particular to my father. My father was a very special cat. He was extremely loving and joyful a lot of the time. I am who I am basically because of my father. He taught me so much –  a little bit I think because he was a wise man, but also because I was the youngest child . Having had four children at a young age, he had to hustle. By the time I was growing up, he had more or less made it.  I think it’s fair to say he was pretty high strung. He had undiagnosed ADD or ADHD. I don’t even know if we knew what that was back in the day. All this to say, I got the very best of my father because everybody moved away and he was a little more settled. He was more in his skin and had sort of come into his own.

So, a little bit of background. My father did not go to college, and in his words he barely made it through high school. I’m guessing that was largely due to the ADD. My uncle Wally, his only brother, is still alive. He’s 99 years old, and he was the one who was more well-spoken and college educated. Anyway, he always considered himself the dumber of the two brothers even though my dad was successful in his own right.

My father inherited the family business Klein Pharmacy from his father. Given that he did not have a college degree, he had to have a partner in the Pharmacy. He was always entrepreneurial and had this ambition to have a family business. We have lots of family tales about his entrepreneurial streak. At one point he bought a train caboose and wanted to have a restaurant on it. I think the caboose was in our backyard. Another time he was trying to get in on this franchise called Jiffy Popcorn, and our basement was filled with these Jiffy popcorn makers.

Anyway, I guess at around age 40, he made his move. He sold our namesake Klein pharmacy to his partner and he bought a hardware store in St. Louis. We worked together as a family, starting in the hardware store. Then he went on to buy a dilapidated store in the inner city area of St. Louis that had closed down.  I remember he took his accountant down to see it, and to look at all of the inventory in the basement of the store. My dad made an offer and we took over this store.  We were one of not more than three white business owners in this area. Our store became Manchester Discount, and he brought in some of the hardware aspects of the previous business. We sold window shades, paint and we made keys. We had the basic hardware things in the back of the store. We also had clothing and toys and a drug aisle. We were the classic five and dime, and definitely an anchor in a very rundown neighborhood. So I grew up working in the store – we all worked in the store – and I think that I really saw my father at his very best.

He always saw the best in people and he spoke it out loud to them, giving compliments freely. He was the master believing mirror. He was very loving and generous. In general, he liked to give people a break. I’d say he erred on the side of trust and  always gave people second chances. But when you broke his trust, you were out. He held his own in the neighborhood. If people were shoplifting, he called the police.  He kicked people out of the store. He was generally quite fearless because I think in his mind our business was a sort of community service.

I have a lot of happy memories of my childhood years. I remember on Saturday mornings when I worked, he would come up to wake us up and I would moan – ‘Oh Dad, leave me alone.  He’d say “you don’t want to come to work? You have free will. You can choose to stay in bed.” which of course got me to dart out bed and go to work. I learned and became a cashier at age nine. My father always paid me. I used to help him do the payroll and I’d add up my hours, just as I did for everyone else. I had an hourly wage and received a check. So from a very early age he taught me the power of hard work, and the independence and freedom having money in your pocket gives you.

Yeah, I would say that my father was a larger than life sort of person in my life. I could go on endlessly about the many wise and beautiful things my father taught me. I definitely had a strong case of anticipatory grief, fearing the day when he would be gone, and then of course he died suddenly in a fatal car accident.

Anyway, later in life my parents did something very unusual for those times. They decided that they wanted to pursue their dreams and go west. They sold our stores, our home, one of our cars and they packed up and left. They moved into an apartment in Berkeley They used to sell goods at the outdoor flea markets on the weekend. They eventually got a large store near UC Berkeley, and then they made their way to Montana where they lived the last 25 years of their lives. We had stores in the West Gate entrance to Yellowstone Park.

So as I’m telling this story one of the themes for me is the fact that my dad was a person who bet on himself. He took chances and made changes. Actually I’d say that he and my mother modeled what it looks like to live a life of curiosity. They were pretty fearless and courageous.  They lived their life to the beat of their own drum. Back in the day they were vegetarian before anybody really knew what that was, especially not in St. Louis where I grew up. They outwardly embraced their lesbian daughter at a time when that was very unusual in the late sixties and early seventies. In fact, I was just listening yesterday to two amazing articles in the New Yorker about the AIDS crisis in the seventies, and I know today the LGBTIQ+ community still has a lot of challenges all over the world, yet when you listen to some of those stories from the 1970s, it’s like the dark ages. I think it’s important never to forget what happened back then.

So, I think that’s what I’m most grateful for. My parents were open-minded and progressive, and I’m particularly indebted to my father for trusting me and for helping me learn to trust myself. He was my staunch encourager and advisor, He never missed a chance to tell me he loved me, that he was proud of me, and he just had so many characteristics that I’ve always sought to emulate.

I’ll leave you with this story. He used to occasionally say to me “don’t let anybody tell you that you were a mistake”. That’s because I was the youngest of four children, and of course he told me that because I probably was indeed a mistake. The other thing that he always said to me was that I was his best birthday present ever. How’s that for a loving thing to hear from your father?

That is my ode to my wonderful father Ronald Klein. I think it’s fair to say that everyone who crossed his path was lucky. He left an indelible mark of kindness and joy and generosity. He was a real mensch. He truly embodied the word mensch and never a day goes by that I don’t think of him. So happy birthday, Dad.

That’s all for now. Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

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