My father was born and raised in the Netherlands. His parents, Miep and the late Arie DeLeeuw, are holocaust survivors who had rebuilt their lives in Holland after the war. Raised in upper middle class Holland during the fifties and sixties, his childhood was pleasant and sheltered, although his family was (understandably) somewhat dysfunctional.
Father left home and immigrated to Israel right after he finished high school, at the age of 18, and enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces. Shortly after that, the young, spoiled Dutch boy had to face a harsh reality when his troop fought in the 1967 Six-Day War.
But that was nothing compared with the death and devastation he experienced during the much harsher Yom Kippur War, in 1973. By then he was married to my mom, and a father to me – a 2 year old toddler. He came back from that war suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Dad is a gifted artist. He had built a successful career as a graphic designer. The combination of his and my mom’s hard work, discipline and frugality had enabled him to retire well before he turned 60.
Just like my younger daughter, dad is amazingly resilient. He had survived a complicated childhood in a dysfunctional family, and came out of it emotionally unscathed. His attitude is definitely one of “whatever life throws at me, I’ll sure make the most of it.”
My parents are one of the most stable and loving couples I have ever met. It’s a mystery, because they are so very different than each other. I always thought that “opposites attract” was true, but unsustainable. In their case, it had proved to last for the past 40 years.
Balancing out my mom’s down-to-earth seriousness, my father, the creative, fun spirited artist, has taught me these important lessons:
1. Have fun and live in the moment. A wise friend told me a long time ago that the happiest people are those who live in the present. If you live in the past, you tend to be full of regret. If you live in the future, you tend to be anxious and worried. Only if you manage to truly live in the present and enjoy everything that life has to offer NOW, can you be truly happy. While mom and I tend to live in the future, anticipating everything that could go wrong, dad is completely immersed in the present. He enjoys every second. It’s a pleasure to just watch him go through life.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Dad is a hopeless optimist. He simply refuses to allow life’s small – and big – challenges to weigh him down. He always smiles, laughs, tells a joke. He just can’t see the point in feeling down. For dad, the glass is always half full – even when mom and I look at the exact same glass and insist it’s half empty. His optimism is contagious, though, and whenever I spend some time with him, I notice that I feel better about things too – as if his basic faith that everything will turn out OK has somehow transferred to me.
3. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Dad and my husband are the only two people in my life who can take me out of my fairly narrow comfort zone and have me thank them later.
4. Be generous and kind. We’ve all heard about the concept of Karma, and “what goes around comes around.” Of course, it doesn’t always work out this way – sometimes the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper. But dad isn’t really concerned with the philosophy, or with whether his kindness will eventually benefit him. He is kind and generous because he doesn’t know how not to be.
5. Always assume the best about people. Mom and I are classic introverts. We have everything we need inside ourselves, and do not require outside stimuli, or social interaction, to feel happy and complete. Dad is the exact opposite. He loves – even craves – social interaction. He also has this basic belief that people are good, and that if you will do right by people, they will do the same for you.
6. Academic achievements are overrated. As a child, dad had a hard time with traditional schooling, because he was an artist, blessed with spatial intelligence and interpersonal intelligence, while traditional education typically rewards logical-mathematical Intelligence. As an adult, he started his own graphic design business, using his picture smarts and people smarts to become highly successful, and proving to all the naysayers that nontraditional types can succeed too.
I love you, dad. Thank you for being such a positive presence in my life all these years. Happy Father’s Day!
*The photo above was taken in my room, in Jerusalem, in December 1972. I am 18 months old and holding my beloved stuffed toy. Less than a year later, I lost that toy during the Yom Kippur war. The sirens went off. We were running from our home to the public shelter. In the commotion, I had lost it. Mom tells me we later went back to look for it, but we never found it. I cried myself to sleep for a few nights, then went on with my life. When dad had returned from the war, he brought with him a new stuffed toy.