I've discovered that Fathers Day is a very difficult holiday for me now. Two years ago, my father, Harold S. Lager, died on Fathers Day weekend. It was also right before his and Mom's 43rd (I think) wedding anniversary. For the most part, I've gotten past the period when thinking about Dad brings tears to my eyes, but all bets are off on this holiday. Since I can only celebrate him in absentia now, I think it's time to get a tribute to the man out into the world.
Like most men his age (born April 6, 1938), Dad served in the armed forces; his branch of choice was the Air Force. He was lucky enough to serve between the wars—too late for Korea, too early for Vietnam—but it was still the height of the Cold War, and the USAF was the first point of contact for attack or defense. Dad wasn't a pilot, but rather a crew chief for aircraft maintenance, mostly working on the F-100 Super Sabre.
He was good. Really good. Good enough to be requested as the crew chief for more than one base commander, despite the anti-Jewish attitude that was prevalent in the U.S. military at the time. Good enough assigned to the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration squadron. You won't find him on their roster, though; orders deploying him to a fast-response interceptor squadron in (I think) Guam had been cut prior to that assignment, and they didn't catch up to him until the day he arrived at Nellis AFB. He could have complained. He could have fought it. But he packed his gear back up, got on the next MAC flight, and went where he was needed. That's how my dad operated—he went where he was needed, and did what was required, usually very well.
I wanted to get that information up front, because it was the source of a lot of great stories. Outside of the stories, and what they say about him, Dad wasn't a military man. When he mustered out, he was pretty much done with that part of his life except for a job with Republic Aviation. He had also become a pretty good baseball player, to the point of being scouted by a major league team (there's some argument between my brother and me about whether it was the Cincinnati Reds or the Boston Red Sox) and offered a uniform, but he turned it down. Baseball wasn't quite the money sport it is today, and it wasn't a great life for somebody who wanted to be a family man someday.
Dad made his mark in the film business. Again, not the flashy part. He was a booker, and a very good one. He climbed the ranks in more than one, winning awards and respect along the way. He also met my mom, which is a win outstripping all others. Eventually, he stopped working for the distributors and became a film buyer, acting as the agent for theater owners. At its height, Mini Theatres (the partnership he had with Marty Goldman) served close to 300 screens in New England and upstate New York. There was more to the business, but it's not who he was either.
Dad was a good guy.
He was more than a good guy. He was an everyday hero, the sort who never did anything selfish or petty, and always thought of others first. Lots of people will say this about their parents, especially when they're gone, but in this case it was true. Dad made friends and garnered respect wherever he went. While not what you'd identify as an intellectual, he was philosophical, witty, and always curious. Later in life, he took special interest in the framers of the U.S. constitution, in the mafia, and in opera, among other things. He gave often to charity (I recall the Southern Poverty Law Center especially), and donated money and time to our local synagogue.
A lot of people took advantage of my dad in his life (including another partner who cleaned out a company and left him holding the bag when it collapsed), but he wasn't vengeful or even particularly interested in getting back what was his. That wasn't the case if somebody screwed with his family, though. Hurt one of us, and you would make an enemy for life.
I can go on like this forever. I can talk about his compassion, or his comic timing, or his passion for puns, or the tremendous love he had for us. Already I'm reaching the point where I'm not completing all the thoughts I need to in order to make you understand what a mensch this was, so I may as well stop. I think, though, that if I had to sum Dad up in one word, it would be reliable. This is a man you could always count on, regardless of time, weather, or health. I aspire to be the same, but I'm not half what he was in that regard. But I'll keep trying. It's what he would want.
Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I miss you.