The Tender Songs, Sights, and Stories of Dad Stay With Me
Guest Post by Jane Paley, Psy.D.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My father, Stuart M. Paley, died on April 22, 2021, at age 91. He was born on January 31, 1930. My mother and father grew up in the Bronx, a couple of blocks apart: Mom on Loring Place, and Dad on 179th Street. My grandmothers were neighbors and friends, who apparently set our parents up when they were young teens. At the time of my father’s death, my parents had been married for 70 years.
I read the piece below after Dad’s burial on a beautiful Monday in April in the living room of the Upper West Side Manhattan apartment in which my brother and I grew up. There were just a few of us there: my mom, Naomi, my brother Adam and sister-in-law, Rachel, my spouse, Andrew, Dad’s grandchildren, and a few other close family members and friends.
My parents have friendships that have lasted as long as their marriage. We were surrounded by the artwork that Dad loved and brought him so much pleasure, including many paintings by his son-in-law. In writing this piece, I wanted to focus on my childhood memories of Dad. There are many more I might have included, but I chose a few significant ones that, to my mind, captured some of the most tender and lasting aspects of our relationship.
Dad had an assortment of nicknames for Adam and me. Most of them were interchangeable, and he usually employed them in enthusiastic greeting. I can hear him perfectly:
"Well hello, Pig Rat!," "If it isn’t old Weasel Dog!," or "Look! It’s the Schnauz!"
I think "Schnauzer" usually belonged to Adam, whereas I had sole claim to "Pooka Mouse."
One of my earliest memories of Dad is of him reading to me every single Saturday morning – always right here, on the living room couch. Favorites often returned to included Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World and Is This the house of Mistress Mouse?, and E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, which we must have read at least a half-dozen times. When we got to the part where Louis the Swan plays "Taps" for the campers in Camp Kookooskoos as they fall asleep, Dad would sing it, not just read it. He associated it with memories of his own Army days in mid-1950s France. Already married to Mom, they enjoyed a (thankfully) peacetime adventure yielding many wild stories, which Adam and I heard as we grew older.
Dad had a great ear and musical sensibility, and although he didn’t play our upright Baldwin often, he had particular songs that he played well that were the core of his repertoire. The top two that I associate with Dad are "Summertime" and "Rhapsody in Blue." I loved hearing him sing with Mom – folk or blues songs they had learned in their teens or 20s, such as “St. James Infirmary,” Venezuela,” “The Golden Vanity,” and Josh White’s "One Meatball."
Dad took me to museums and galleries when I was a child, sometimes with Mom, and often alone. Dad had a great eye and an openness to different kinds of art. We would walk around and spend time looking at sculpture or paintings – Picasso, the impressionists, the fauvists; indigenous art, abstract art, folk art, and pop art.
We also pored over books or folios on our living room shelves. He loved ancient textiles and contemporary weavings, glazed ceramics, old glass. He was curious about how I saw things and in having conversations about what we noticed. He was interested in cultural symbols and meaning, history, and personal aesthetic experiences. These were very formative times together that I treasured and later, of course, I associated with his love and appreciation of Andy’s art, which became a point of deep connection in our lives.
Whatever bumps I hit, risks I took – and he encouraged me to take them, right up until the very end – I always knew, without any doubt, that he had my back.
Dad was a very practical, intellectual, ethical, and rational person. Although not overly sentimental, and sometimes distant, he was deeply sensitive and feeling. Adam and I both noticed independently how often he cried, and how hard it was for him to look at or behold cruelty or suffering in any form. It may not have been obvious on the surface – sometimes you had to look hard to notice his tears. Men, particularly of his generation were not permitted the freedom to cry. Over time, I came to view his tears as a kind of "untapped superpower" – to borrow an idea from Allan Shedlin, my friend and mentor (founder of DADvocacy Consulting Group and, of course, this blog!).
I think Dad’s hidden tears were evidence of his sensitivity and capacity for empathy. I only wish that he had allowed himself to be more open with his own feelings and to share them more freely with us and with the people he loved.
In July 1972, when I was seven and very small, Mom and Dad took us on a trip out West. It was an improbable, seemingly impossible trip for Stuart and Naomi to take: a week on a working ranch in Wyoming, hiking in Colorado and the Grand Tetons, several days of white water rafting down the Rogue River in Oregon, and the final stop, San Francisco, to ride trolleys and visit dear friends. I had never seen anything like these places in my life, and the beauty, strangeness, and wondrousness of those landscapes are permanently etched in my mind’s eye.
Dad loved to recount his favorite story about me from that trip, which involved mind-altering desert heat, rattlesnakes, escaped cattle herds, rodeos, encounters with bears, Dad getting thrown from his horse, and lost luggage (thanks to Pan Am Airlines). This one involved him riding up behind me, only to watch as I bounced full out of the Western saddle and onto my horse’s back, going at full gallop. Panicked, he raced up behind me as fast as he could to catch me. But before he had the chance, I had popped back into the saddle.
My dad told that story often, always with a chuckle, a huge sigh of relief, and a hint of delighted disbelief as if he were re-experiencing the moment. I think it serves as a metaphor: Dad was always behind me. Whatever bumps I hit, risks I took – and he encouraged me to take them, right up until the very end – I always knew, without any doubt, that he had my back.
Our dad loved his family and especially his grandchildren, Hannah, Sarah, Abe, and Charlie, with great devotion. He lit up at the sight of them and at the mention of their names. As for his love for Mom, there are no words for that.
Jane Paley, Psy.D. is a psychologist in Brooklyn, NY, providing psychotherapy to children and adults. Her areas of specialization include learning and neurodevelopmental variation, attachment and parenting, loss and trauma, mood disorders, anxiety, life-stage transitions, and gender identity. Dr. Paley was an adviser on the development of the interview question protocol for the DADvocacy Consulting Group and participated in the creation of the Daddy Wishes Fund.
For nearly a decade, Dr. Paley worked in the Marsha Winokur Learning Center and the Learning Resource Network of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. During that period, she authored various pieces for Thinking Children, a quarterly newsletter. From 2003-2011, Dr. Paley served as the Brooklyn Clinical Coordinator for the Los