Category Archives: Family

Kaddish for my cousin, Dr. Stephen Markow, d. 2/26/15

[Reposted and adapted from a Facebook posting from earlier today in response to his daughter Nina Markow Eigerman’s announcement of her father’s death.

Nina. I am so sorry. I first met your father so long ago that I have no idea exactly when. When indeed do first cousins meet each other?
Through our parents, for certain. My mother, recall, was your grandmother Betty’s “kid sister.” I remember “kidpix” of him, with your father, with Marian his sister, and with Betty when your father Eddie was stationed in Texas during WW2 as a military dentist.
Maybe I recall your father clearly for the first time when he was in his teens, in Midwood High School in Brooklyn, where you all grew up. He and I quibbled now and then about opera. He was older than me and seemed a bit intimidating, but I lived through it because he had an extraordinary sense of humor and the sometimes inconsequentiality of arguments about opera or musical theatre in general. What else, after all, do opera people do? His sense of humor was matchless, even when he was doing his work–maybe because he knew how and when to apply humor.
Nina, please let this story be part of your and your brother Greg’s best memories: One evening in December 1967 I gave up on “toughing it out” because I could not chew solid food. It was so excruciating that I was almost in tears. It was bad that even drinking soda or coffee hurt. So I called your dad’s office and then took the long subway ride from the Bronx to 50 Clark Street in Brooklyn, your father’s dental practice that he had inherited from his father, Dr. Edward Markow.
Steve always had a classic rock station piped-in, I think WNEW-FM, which made it a bit more bearable and certainly more entertaining. He looked into my mouth and said one word: “YUCK!” Then he told me all four my wisdom teeth were impacted, and had to come out. Now, all at once, or do we do it in two trips? NOW, Steve, for Godsake, please, now! Your dad shot me up with enough Novocaine to torpedo a heavy cruiser, yanked them all, said “Oh shit” a few times as he gazed upon the ruins of my mouth. He wrote me a scrip for Tetracycline which I filled in the drugstore on the way to the Clark Street IRT station, on the first floor of the Hotel St. George. Two nights later I I was able to eat red meat again. I thought I’d died and was in Paradise.
Years later,I recall your dad and Debbie entertaining me and my new wife during the shiva period for your grandfather, my uncle, in 1969. I think by making a few salacious comments to us about borrowing the bedroom, they were making us laugh and easing the pain they surely felt for my uncle.
I’m surprised today at the depth of my grief for this good man. We hadn’t seen one another in 40 years; but he carries some of the few unsullied memories I’ve retained from my childhood. Your father was a remarkable man, Nina. He was a mensch. He was that from before the night he met your mother-to-be at a performance of Don Giovanni at the Met, and bought her a drink during the intermission. You know all this. I suppose it’s family folklore. I’m really saying it to myself, for myself, from a space of sadness I didn’t know I possessed.
Please extend my condolences to your mother and brother. Please say the same to Marian, his sister and your aunt. Life will not stop or even pause, yet we must pause for a moment to regard the life of this good man who was your beloved and loving father. From one cousin to another in the name of yet a third: Be comforted.

So my firstborn son is now married!

DSCN0029I needed a happier note.

Jake, my firstborn, got married Sunday afternoon, June 2, to Brianne Sherwood. Yep. It’s done. It was an outdoor wedding on the first decent weather day in over a week. It was officiated by a rabbi and Roman Catholic monsignor. Ol’ Dad (me) signed a document from the Diocese of Paterson that my son was who he said he is, that he’d not been married before, that there were no impediments. They signed the Aramaic ketubah, the marriage contract, and they publicly exchanged vows and rings. Then we had this really great party.

That’s what weddings are for, I guess. No arguing, no bickering, no rehashing of past  harms: just celebration. It was so wonderful to be there. God bless them both.

All my pictures are somewhere on this computer if I can figure out how to offload them. I used to be good at that. But the more sophisticated the technology becomes, the less I know what I’m doing.

God bless you both, Jake and Brianne. Many years together, children if they come, and life together to a contented old age!

In Memory of Andrew Gold

Andrew Gold, the singer and songwriter is dead, and I feel just a bit poorer this morning than I did yesterday.

Gold helped heal me one hot evening in July 1977. I had just returned from the hospital where my wife was awaiting a therapeutic D&C the morning following an unexpected miscarriage–a ghastly event–that occurred in the middle of a supermarket. She had no appetite. She was in tears and an understandable rage. So was I–or simply in in the midst of a great sadness. This was to be our first child after nine years of marriage; and the child had just disappeared. Just like that. So I went home, ate something, and proceeded drink about a pint of something destructive–probably Scotch, which I did not like except for the effect. And on the radio was Andrew Gold singing “Oh What a Lonely Boy.” I broke down. I spent the evening in tears, surely feeling sorry for myself but also for that child I would never see, for my wife and her family, for a world of hurt that I felt belonged to me and (that night) me alone, even though I knew better.

In the morning I sat in my wife’s room while they had her up in surgery removing the last vestiges of the pregnancy that wasn’t supposed to finish itself.

A year later our first child was born. Now formally engaged, he is getting married next June 2. He had been and remains one of the wonders of my life. His younger brother Ben came along in April 1981. He gave us a monumental scare but that’s a story for another time.

This morning I read that Andrew Gold is dead: son of Ernest Gold and the singer Marni Nixon. According to the New York Times he died of a heart attack. I shall miss him. He got me through one of the worst nights of my life and you do not repay someone with forgetfulness and ingratitude. Rest easy, Mr. Gold. We all die, but you went too soon.

A tale of three children

First, a tale of a train ride: I don’t like it when God opens my eyes. Over my shoulder stood the ghosts of famous child psychoanalysts: Winnicott, Klein, particularly John Bowlby. I like to imagine we all were horrified.

Last night, at about 8:30, I was taking the R7 train from 30th Street in Philadelphia to Bristol. It’s part of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA [or SEPTIC to its friends]), and the line I was on–the R7–terminates in Trenton, New Jersey, where you can pick up connections to New York or Philadelphia or Washington. It’s a creepy train at best. The conductors are mostly snotty and not at all helpful. Perhaps they have a reason. Their passengers aren’t much better.

Last night I spotted a woman with tan skin in front of the car. She was escorting her two children: a lovely little girl with some sort of cheap game machine, a girl who sat quietly with her mother the entire creaky ride; and a little boy, not even two years old, who screamed, whined, and sobbed…who squirmed and fought during the entire trip. It was horrible to hear and to witness.

I thought of a guy I knew in college who would have said things like “Lady, you wanna feed your animal?” I found the line coming back to me because I was becoming furious that I had to be subjected to this performance from a kid who was so out of control it’s miraculous his mother did not get physical with him. He was just miserable and she was trying to keep her head about her.

And that is my key–the door that open to Total Recall.

How many times did I, as a near-baby, squirm and try to get loose, to be up way past my bedtime, to squirm and shriek and whine in a state of rage and misery. And how much patience did this woman have to hold him tightly and try to stop his sobbing and howling? It did not work.

I left the train at Bristol, took as much of a deep breath as I could, and went to my car. The family was still aboard and the kid was still yowling.

Part of my reaction: she was either and Arab-American or African-American Muslim wearing a black headscarf. Would I have become upset if she’d be “just like me” or even mere Black? I don’t know. But yes, I was thinking “Go the f— back to your own country and torture us from there instead of subjecting us to this.”

But she wasn’t torturing anyone. In fact she was the victim, along with her son…and thank God she got her  daughter to move to the facing seat so the little boy could lay down.

The little boy was me, of course. Kept up far too late, but probably because there was no man with her who could help, and no woman either. I remembered long rides home when I was no older than that kid when I suffered from exhaustion and maybe hunger at having to sit still in a damn train just because there was no one to help and no help for the length of the trip.

There’s always a moral and it’s called Patience and Tolerance. When I had an insight into what was happening I calmed myself down and went back to a book on digital photography. I could not teach the mother about parenting and she probably could not teach me about manual controls on a Nikon, either. We just handled each other. I only thought I wanted to break the invisible barrier and whisper “It will be okay.” And I pray to God that it will be, that it was not part of a pattern of emotional abandonment that one day will come back to bite them all.

Second, A tale of two photographs

The back of the photo reads “Kenneth 1944.” The picture was taken (I imagine by my father) when I was a few months old. It was summer or early fall. How old was I? Maybe six months. There was still a war in progress in Europe and the Pacific. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President. My father, who’d been in the Marines in World War I,  had volunteered to go back to the service after Pearl Harbor but was sent home. “Jack, we don’t need you right now.” I suppose they were praying they would never need to call a 44-year-old man back to active duty on Saipan or the Philippines.

The picture frightens me. I had no reason yet to believe in the terrors that were awaiting me: abandonment, rage, grief. I was far away from being hurt and learning to hurt others in return. My mother looked pleased. The woman I grew up knowing was embittered and permanently pained. She had not yet inflicted the Awful Wound upon me for which I would spend years paying her back. My father had an elderly niece, who assured me in June 2001, that he would have destroyed me, but died in 1954, so so did not get the chance to finish the job he was already beginning even against his will and judgment.

I look weird. My head seems too big for my body. I look like a moron, to be quite honest. Surely I was and am not. Yet there is that blank stare: a baby already unsure of his place in the household. And my mother was oblivious. Oblivion was the state of life in my house.

Third, a tale of a son

The other kid is Ben. He’s 29 now, so I’m guessing that is a school picture because I’m a better photographer than that. It’s one of those yank-out-of-your-wallet things. I have others of him that I made myself, and they crafted, not ground out of a machine.

Ben was a happy kid. He gets morose now and then because that is the family disease. It took me no small effort to make amends to him particularly because he was living home when his parents’ divorce shit hit the propeller blades. He was also his parents’ volleyball–we batted him back and forth like a damn toy.

My ex and I got everything wrong but how we treated our children. They survived us. Some kids–e.g., my ex–did not get past the trauma of a father who was turned down for active duty in WW2 because of paranoid schizophrenia or perhaps Borderline Personality Disorder. Whatever it was, it was horrible and took years off my mother-in-law’s life and ripped away pieces of my wife’s brain. She lost the ability to feel. I was collateral damage because the errors of my marriage have never receded from their permanent place where they haunt me.

Yet I write to forgive as I know I never shall be forgiven. It’s lonely in here some days….

Ben and his brother Jake are my jewels hauled out of a burning house. Neither of them ever had to get dragged home on a suburban railroad in a state of manic exhaustion. And if they did it’s because the damn fools were partying a bit too vigorously:-).

It’s supposed to be Getaway Day…

…and truth to tell I don’t want to go.

I don’t want to go back to everyone’s mishugas and neuroses. I have enough of my own. They’re my invisible third piece of carry-on luggage.

I don’t want to go back to an horrific bank balance that will force me back to begging for extended Unemployment benefits or prevent me from getting them at all because (gasp!) I worked in some state other than Jersey for five months.

I don’t want to go back to ringing phones, lies to recruiters, fielding piss-and-moan questions from my (former) students.

I don’t want to have to try a Hanukah miracle by stretching no money to reach until the end of February.

I don’t want to have to try to get what probably is a non-existent job in a supermarket or drugstore. Again.

I don’t want my life to be measured in dollar bills! Can anyone in the post-capitalist pee-market system that is the American economy even begin to figure out what I’m saying, or am I going to be told to Deal With It. Okay, I will. So can I come live with you?

I went in August for what I loved instead of what I was compelled to do. And I think of a saying attributed to Kierkegaard: “Do it or don’t do it — you will regret both.” So yes. I am the permanent malcontent, forever, for whom all is too much and nothing can be quite enough. It’s really not fun to run up against the life you have made for yourself–the life of bad choices coming from good motives and dreams deferred.

It is as though joy is necessarily withheld to challenge faith, to challenge anything I try to believe about God, the hard-fought believe that he is something other than the perpetual mugger. I am sick to death of carrying that idiot conception of God, but he keeps showing up as the result of good choices, to bring me sad consequences.

So I will go home tonight, assuming the plane isn’t marooned in Portland, and return to the trap I sprang on myself years ago. No, I won’t chew my leg off to get out of it. I think I might miss the benefits.

Besides, few people write Bitterness as well as me, so why renounce that spur?

Well, it’s Christmas, I guess

The church I was going to visit in Washougal, WA this morning is shut down because of the weather. If I ever hear the song “Winter Wonderland” again I’m going to be a bit displeased, shall we say.

We’re going into Portland a bit later to find a Chinese restaurant and maybe browse Powell’s Books again.

Difficulties are everywhere but will have to be addressed when I get home early Sunday morning or whenever the damn plane decides to land in New Jersey.

In the meantime, there are little wonders.  I’m standing next to one of them.  I’m the one who really looks like Kenny in South Park.  Ben is one of my marvels. If I did Christmas cards, this would be the photo on the front.

Happy Holidays from two of the Wolman men!

Happy Holidays from two of the Wolman men!

Male caregivers: The NY Times just heard!

The NY Times this morning wrote about its shocking disclosure that more and more men are assuming the role of primary caregiver to their aging parents.

This is almost funny. It's not, though.

I took care of my mother's person and finances for a year, from early March 1991 until she died on February 28, 1992. My mother had squirreled money away–a great deal of it–but in plain sight. So I ran field through Medicaid by signing away ever dollar she had to the nursing home before she could qualify for her expenses being underwritten.

It was not particularly fun.

  • I had no siblings for mutual support
  • I spent half my days arguing with bureaucrats
  • I went home and downed Ativans, three at a time, washed down with vodka, just to get myself straight.
  • I lost total contact with my wife except to tell her, early in 1997, that I wanted out because my life had become a series of lies on top of addictions, and my marriage had become the biggest lie of them all.

When my mother died, Medicaid paid for her funeral because she'd set aside not a dime based on her oft-stated assumption that someone was going to rob her. Not exactly. But the nursing home worked it so it was legal.

Asking for help was not an option. My wife and my mother disliked one another, and rightly or not, I believed that my mother was my responsibility–solely mine–as well as my cross. No siblings, remember?

Upset? Me? I almost got into one fight with a very large security guard because I found Beth Israel/Passaic Hospital's treatment of me–totally ignoring me regarding my mother's condition after congestive heart failure–horribly wrong. It actually was. If I'd been a woman, would this have happened?

And I'd done nothing except work to ease my mother's passage from this place to the next.

My emotional collapse, when it came, was a doozy, as they say.

Still, I was one of the lucky ones. I got dragged out of the trench before it collapsed on me.

But the Times…the Times!…remains forever in the derriere guard of journalism and current information. They discover a trend that's not news anymore and expect everyone to be amazed. Sorry, Paper of Record, you got there 17 years too late this time.