The first memory I have of him- of anything, really is his strength. It was in the late afternoon in a house under construction near ours. The unfinished wood floor had large, terrifying holes whose big and opening darkness I knew led to nowhere good. His powerful hands,then age 33, wrapped all the way around my tiny arms, then age 4, and easily swung me up to his shoulders to command all I surveyed.
The relationship between a son and his father changes over time. It may grow and flourish in mutual maturity. It may sour in hated dependence or independence. With many children living in single-parent homes today, it may not even exist.
But to a little boy right after World War II, a father seemed a god with strange strengths and strange powers enabling him to do and know things that no mortal could do or know. Amazing things, like putting a bicycle chain back on,just like that. Or building a hamster cage. Or guiding a Jigsaw so it forms the letter F: I learned the alphabet that way in those pre-television days.
There were, of course, rules to learn. First came the handshake. None of those cold little finger grips, but a good firm squeeze accompanied by an equally strong gaze into the other’s eyes. "The first thing anyone knows about you is your handshake , ’he would say. And we’ d practice it each night on his return from work, the serious toddler in the battered Cleveland Indian’s cap running up to the giant father to shake hands again and again until it was firm enough.