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Even when he was blind, my father had a vision

My father was 60 when I was born. Not only was he the oldest dad on the block, he was older than all my friends’ grandfathers. He was also blind and lost his sight in his early fifties. After a few days of blurred vision, he became completely blind. The doctors suspected it was vascular, perhaps an optic nerve aneurysm.

Growing up with a blind father was not easy. Sometimes his blindness scared me. At times I would play blind, walk around a room with my eyes tightly closed, feel my way with outstretched arms, walk with a hesitant gait, and wonder how Dad managed to move with such effortless grace.

Jack Levine, of the 4 Generations Institute, in Tallahassee, Florida.

Mark Wallheiser

Jack Levine, of the 4 Generations Institute, in Tallahassee, Florida.

From the age of nine, it was my responsibility to read for my father – mainly newspaper columns, editorials and handwritten letters from his friends.

When I read for my father, he listened as I patiently worked through the difficult words – I had to spell some of them. But I will never forget the light that shone from his blind eyes when I came across a sentence in an article or a letter from a friend that moved him – a new fact or a fresh angle on an issue that concerned him. When that light came on, I knew I was doing it right. He couldn’t see my smile, but I knew he felt it.

My father never went to school. He came to this country at the beginning of the 20th century to escape the tyranny of forced ‘conscription’ in the Russian Tsarist army. The teenage boys from the shtetls were not really recruited or given uniforms. They were cannon fodder.

The few survivors pretended to be dead and crawled back to the village to warn the others, like my father, to run away and flee to the West.

He and a friend, Benny, left their families at the age of 14 and made their way through Poland over a three-year period to save enough to board a ship in Danzig (now Gdansk) for the New World , to survive and to be free.

Although my father never went to school, over the years he learned Yiddish, the language of his childhood; Russians to know what orders the Cossacks shouted at their teenage prisoners; Polish to earn enough money to secure the ship ticket; and English in the New World to start a business.

Moreover, he quickly learned to speak politics, a language that dominated everyone’s lives. After losing his sight, he mastered Braille, but he believed that it was the power of politics that forced those impoverished teenagers to run through the forest like human prey, and that it was politics that ruled every stage of his life had to be influenced.

My father never hesitated to share his personal stories and the history of his generation. Most of my knowledge of the 20th century is rooted in its stories of life’s struggles, successes, and failures.

As I think about Father’s Day, I think about how different my childhood would have been if I had had a different father—one who wasn’t blind, who could play, or take me to a movie, or compliment my drawings.

Yet I know that I was enriched by being with a wise old man and helping to tell the events of his life. For as long as I can remember, I saw for two people. That was both an obligation and an opportunity.

I view Father’s Day—now more than fifty years after my father’s death—as an opportunity to cherish the gifts he gave me that had no wrapping paper. I believe his influence comes from the work I do, my appreciation for the challenges of others, and the relationship I have built with my own two sons, who never had the opportunity to meet the old man with bright, shining eyes .

I implore you to reflect on the life lessons we have learned – both good and bad – from our fathers. Let us honor them by imitating the good, overcoming the bad, and sending a signal to our children and grandchildren in word and deed that they are valued.

Perhaps you can contribute on behalf of your parents to a charity that reflects the values ​​we have learned from those who paved our paths. Perhaps you might choose to volunteer to read to a child, visit a lonely elder, send a note to a long-lost friend, or connect with our elected leaders. What better honor than to give ourselves in the name of those who have given us so much?

Jack Levine, founder of the 4Generations Institute, is a family policy advocate based in Tallahassee. He can be reached at [email protected].