Strength, like love, can be deceptive.
You cannot measure either one quantitatively, just as you cannot quantify anything of beauty.
When I wrote “Punching Above His Weight,” my Thrive Global tribute to my dad, Bob Jaffee, I praised my father, who passed away on May 15, 2020, for his stroke of genius in introducing me to 1930s and ’40s Warner Brothers movies when I was a little boy.
My father’s love for movies extended beyond Jack L. Warner productions.
In fact, my father had very catholic interests; I am using the lower case, “c,” in catholic, but I do intend a higher resonance, and that is because, while my dad was Jewish, he was fascinated with the entire planet and all that is in it, all peoples, all flora, all fauna, all species.
He loved elephants, and not surprisingly so do I.
He loved marine mammals, whales, dolphins, porpoises, and, once again, not surprisingly so do I.
He loved Mahler and Cole Porter music. He also took my mother to a Bob Dylan concert at the old New Haven arena during Dylan’s acoustic phase, before I was born.
Needless to say, I am a fan of the music of Porter and Dylan, and though I have not listened much to Mahler, I remember enjoying the composer’s work when my dad played it in the house.
Harry Truman was my dad’s favorite president, and my dad supported Ronald Reagan.
Not unlike my dad, I think quite highly of both of those former U.S. presidents.
My dad was a sports fan, and, at some point after I had graduated from college, my dad told me that he had written sports articles for the Tufts Jumbo, named after the most famous elephant this planet has known, at least since the days of Hannibal.
After telling me that he had written for the Jumbo, my dad added that he did not think that he was a writer, which is why he stopped writing sports articles after one semester in college.
He may have stopped writing, but my dad could have been anything.
He was an omnivorous reader.
And though he devoted his career to finance, a field that he loved, my dad was secretly or not so secretly happy that I had become a writer, that I had returned to a field that my dad maybe did pursue as a career in a previous lifetime.
I can recall how my dad read my novel, Strikeout at Hell Gate, in the spring of 1997, as I recuperated from my first bout of mental illness.
My dad edited my novel and made some very fine suggestions while he read it over a three-day period after he came home from work each night.
“You did good work this past year,” my dad told me after he finished reading Strikeout.
Last autumn, I completed the opus that Barbara, my wife, has mused and that I began writing in 1996 at a UCLA extension writing class, where I met Barbara Bunny, who passed away in 2019.
Were he with me in corporeal form, my dad, like Barbara, would now be telling me that I “did good work” over the past 25 years during which I wrote the opus.
Of course, God is the author and finisher of our faith, which is to say every faith, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and all religions.
And God is the author of all of our lives.
God is the creator of the heavens and the earth.
He is also the master storyteller of all forms, literary and otherwise.
He is the creative force behind all modes of art, fiction, poetry, classical music, folk music, rock and film, to name a few.
We cannot fathom the depths and complexities of God’s creation.
But we can and should appreciate His love.
And we can and should appreciate the love that our friends, our teachers and our loved ones, like my dad, have given us.
Getting back to film, my dad introduced me not only to Warner Brothers movies from the 1930s and ’40s; my dad also introduced me to The Quiet Man, among many other non-Warner Brothers movies.
Traditionally shown on St. Patrick’s Day, The Quiet Man, a John Ford film from the early 1950s, is set in Ireland; and all of its primary cast members, from what I can tell, are Irish or of Irish descent.
John Wayne plays the title character, an ex-boxer who is trying “to forget his troubles,” in the words of Barry Fitzgerald’s character, Mickelaney Flynn, if I am remembering correctly.
My dad may not have been a boxer in this lifetime. And he may not have been Irish.
But, like John Wayne’s Sean Thornton, my dad, without a doubt, punched above his weight, as I indicated in the headline to my Thrive Global article on my dad, after he passed away two years ago at the age of 86.
Like Telemachus near the end of The Odyssey, my father showed restraint, as it concerned his strength.
But he did give glimpses of it.
I talked to my dad about baseball quite a bit when I was a kid, and I never heard him talk about playing the game.
I don’t believe that he played Little League baseball. And I don’t believe that he ever played baseball formally for any team. I don’t even know if he ever was coached in the game, outside of summer camp perhaps.
Yet, one summer day, in August 1978 or August 1979, in Chatham, Mass., we went to the baseball field where the Chatham A’s, a Cape Cod League team, played its home games.
One of my uncles tried to toss the ball to us for batting practice, and he did not throw the ball that well or with much velocity.
My dad stepped in for one at bat, one swing.
And he crushed the ball, one-hopping it, as I recall, off the left field fence, while I stood a few feet to his right, behind home plate.
Forty-five or 46 years old at the time, my dad took one swing, one swing, and he swung the bat right-handed with great violence, and also great restraint.
He cut the swing short, as if he did not want to reveal his full power.
After he crushed the ball, I applauded him, and he smiled.
But my dad did not say anything about the ball that he had just launched 300 feet.
He did not boast or brag.
He was a very modest and kind man.
It is also no doubt true that there were other reasons for my dad’s low-key response, which was the response of a quiet man.
Was my dad more like John Wayne’s ex-prizefighter than I realized at the time?
Other people probably dismissed my dad’s swing as a lucky stroke, or a fluke.
But that was wishful thinking on the parts of those who felt that way.
My dad was actually a very athletic man. He was the only one on the block in our old neighborhood who could outrace me when I was 10 years old.
It is also true that my dad’s more obvious strengths were of a cognitive nature.
He had a memory and an imagination that remain unsurpassed.
Most importantly, my dad was and always will be a force for good.
He knew about the jealousies of others, the jealousies of those who seek to diminish individuals who are truly gifted and filled with love.
When we talked about fighting, which admittedly we only did from time to time, my dad once joked to me that “an Irishman might pick you up if he knocks you down.”
It goes without saying that not all Irishmen are like John Wayne’s title character or like Victor McLaglen’s reigning champ in The Quiet Man.
And it also goes without saying that not all Jewish guys have an appreciation for the Irish or for pugilism.
But my dad, whose hair, like mine, used to turn a bit red during the summer, had such an appreciation both for the Irish and for boxing.
And so do I.
A polymath and an omnivorous reader, as I noted earlier, my dad also had an appreciation for Homer, for Kipling, for Shakespeare and even for Hamlet, whom he critiqued in my presence, a point that I made in my Thrive Global tribute, “Punching Above His Weight.”
Though my father, seemingly baffled by my love for the Prince of Denmark, once quipped, “I’d fire Hamlet,” my dad also lauded Paul Giamatti for his performance as the melancholy Dane at Yale Rep some years ago.
My dad said that Giamatti’s portrayal of Hamlet was “the most intense performance” that my dad had “ever seen.”
My dad encouraged me to return home on a flight, if I could, so that I could see Giamatti play Hamlet.
As it turned out, that weekend was the last weekend of that production of Hamlet at the Yale Rep.
And it was doubtful that any seats would have remained even if Barbara and I could have booked a flight back that Friday, two days before the end of the production’s run.
Moreover, Barbara, my late wife, and I had just arrived in Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif., where we spent many vacations.
Barbara had written poetry when she lived in Laguna in the 1970s, back when she was teaching public school kindergarten in Anaheim.
What I did not know was that my dad had also been to Laguna years before.
He told Barbara and me not long before Barbara passed away in 2019 that he had once held, I believe, a conference in Laguna for research analysts on Wall Street.
On my dad’s 85th birthday, in 2018, my dad and brother, who works in finance, told me that my dad had gotten the highest score on Wall Street on the industry test in his field; my dad attained the highest industry-wide score on more than one occasion, another thing that he had never told me before.
I suppose that my dad, like any great storyteller, liked to withhold information from some people on some occasions, just as he held back when he slugged the ball a few feet in front of the left field fence in August of 1978 or 1979 when he was 45 or 46 years old.
As I mentioned before, he was showing restraint, yet he was also revealing glimpses of his power.
There is no doubt that, among members of our species, my dad is the greatest influence on my life.
There is no doubt that Barbara, who nurtured me for 23 years and who read my first chapter of fiction at UCLA in 1996, is my eternal Muse and J writer.
And there is no doubt that my mother, a former public schoolteacher herself, deserves immense credit for chirping in my ear when I was a baby and for teaching me to read when I turned 3 years old.
I have had many wonderful and sublime teachers over the decades.
And again I am sure that my dad, like so many of my teachers, would tell me and is telling me now that I “did good work” these past 25 years, during which I composed the opus.
I am also sure that my dad would be very glad to hear that he is the greatest influence on my life.
Of course, we all should recognize that God gets all the glory!
That does not mean that my dad did not pack a mean punch.
My dad definitely punched above his weight.
He was just reluctant to do so.
He was a quiet man.