Rui – I wish you could know your Grandpa. His name is Morton, and he has been a scientist, a medical research specialist in cancer, immunology, and biochemistry; he taught medical students and led research laboratories for 50 years. Now he teaches bioethics at a couple of different universities. Your grandfather has great technical knowledge and abilities that only other scientists can really understand, but he has also always cared about advancing public knowledge, which requires that it first be released, explained, and disseminated. So now in retirement your grandpa gives lots of talks and courses that engage people in the questions that technology, advanced biology, genetics and so on present for us as 21st century beings struggling to maintain a semblance of an ethics we can believe in.
This note is for you and him, with some photographs of your first meetings together, in 2006. Your grandfather was born in 1927. He had a birthday on December 12th – so there was a “12/12/12” party for him, with your Aunt Karen, Uncle Neal, Uncle Greg, Jacque and your grandfather’s friends.
The first time Dad saved my life, I couldn’t have been more than about 5 years old. The family was pushing some little paddle boats around on Lake Texoma and when it came time to hop out of the boat and onto the dock after an hour of fun on the lake, little me managed to miss the wooden edge with both my feet. I fell feet first into the lake. I couldn’t swim yet. I still remember this event and the speed with which a fully-clothed Dad dropped into the drink to fish me out. I remember how strong was Dad’s hold on my little body. I hugged him for all I was worth, and he hugged me back, like I’d just missed a date with the grim reaper.
That strong hold stays with me. Everyone who knows the bolstering power of a father’s love, knows this feeling. That’s the imperative we fathers live with too – to hold our children tight and have joy in their existence. (Do you remember the days we spent at the beach, Rui?)
Since then, Dad has had many occasions to repeat his life-saving moves for me; not necessarily ones involving agility or swimming; but rescue, all the same. It would be unseemly to repeat them here! But suffice it to say, I gave him more opportunities than I meant to, and Dad has always responded with love. We had our version of the middle-age/ teenage war, and survived it with a whole lot of patience, all of it Dad’s.
—It’s hard to know how many people there are who know the depth and breadth of him. In my Dad, there are more luminous sights, more roads into integrity, more messages from the genius of tradition and of our country, more ways of modeling a thought, more ethical care and more devotion to principle than one person can ordinarily be credited with. In Dad, there are worlds; and worlds within worlds. I have talked with Dad over more than five decades about Torah, Plato, Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Beethoven, Brahms, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Darwin, Frost, and Shakespeare and more. Mostly I just listen. My shelves are groaning with poetry and philosophy because my Dad raised me. It’s a great life-gift.
It’s not only the content, but the mode of delivery that made this work its way in the lives of my brothers, sister and certainly me. Any time I want or need to, I can conjure the image of Dad in his brown bathrobe, a favorite book of poetry in his hand, reading humorously and dramatically to us from poems about farmers, about revolutionary heroes, about the cruelty of war, the sorrow of facing death, about the carefree charms of every day, and the seductive pull of memory, while I wiggled under a sheet, my little head on a pillow, my heavy eyelids starting to lower, my faltering consciousness focused on Dad ’s words and the sound of his voice, as I faded into sleep. Rui – only the sound of your voice could match that sound for me, for the love and warmth it conjures.
So, for Rui and Dad – the words of the old Longfellow poem:
And the verse of that sweet old song,
It flutters and murmurs still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”