Ben Shaberman

In an Old Snapshot, A Long Lost Life Slips Into Focus

March 26th, 2007 by Ben

In an Old Snapshot, A Long Lost Life Slips Into Focus
The Washington Post

By Ben A. Shaberman
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 26, 2007; C08

Over the past few years, my mother has been sending me an odd assortment of nostalgic items, including my Cub Scout neckerchief, first-grade report card and great-grandparents’ naturalization papers. In one envelope was a black-and-white photo of my father, circa 1960. He was about 30 years old then, newly married to my mother. They were just getting settled in their new home. I arrived on the scene about a year later. My mother could have been pregnant with me when the photo was taken, or maybe they were just in the planning stages.

At that moment in time, he was still just Stan, not yet having achieved Dad status. Stan was a plumber and looks just like one in the picture; a short stocky guy with glasses, dressed in a flannel shirt, work pants and a cap. He’s standing with his hands in the pockets of his jacket and smiling, with a cigarette between his lips. Back then, people enjoyed smoking. It wasn’t just a habit, it was a look.

My parents decided to divorce in 1963, the year Kennedy was shot. They were having financial problems, because my dad wasn’t working. My mother had to drop me off at a friend’s house during the day so she could work in the medical records department of a hospital. Eventually, they couldn’t make payments on our house. What a year for the Shabermans.

I have virtually no memory of my mother and father being together. The only recollection I do have is muddled and I can’t attest to its validity. It could have been a moment in a dream. What I remember is standing in a crib while my parents were arguing. They were in their underwear. I never bothered asking if they kept my crib in their bedroom.

Neither of my parents ever remarried or dated much. I lived with my mother and saw my dad on occasional weekends, when we were living in the same town. We’d go to the movies, go bowling or fishing. My dad had a wealth of knowledge and enjoyed rattling on about all sorts of facts, people and events, even if I had no interest in who or what he was talking about. Sometimes we would visit a friend or a relative, and my dad was invariably asked to repair something — a washer, toilet, or furnace. He could fix anything, though he loved to toy with people while he worked. He’d be wedged under the kitchen sink of some stressed-out housewife and proclaim, “Yeah, I think we’ll need to redo the plumbing for the whole house,” only to emerge minutes later having easily fixed the problem.

My dad and I had a falling-out when I was 16. He was angry with my rebellious lifestyle and the fact I was not doing well in school. He was convinced I’d never come to anything, and it broke his heart. We didn’t talk for seven years, until my last year of college. He died from lung cancer just after I graduated.

The last time I saw my dad, he was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit. Through a series of hand motions and scribblings on a piece of paper, he was able to let me know that there was some cash in a drawer in his apartment that he wanted me to take. I found the money. He died a few days later.

I’m drawn to that old photo of my father. It captures such a happy moment in young Stan’s life, with a new wife and a baby on the way. And though I wish he could be here with me now, how great it must have been to have known him then.

Posted in The Washington Post

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