Dad died 7 years ago yesterday (November 30 by the lunar calendar). Thoughts of him have been in the back of my mind all month.
Although I wasn’t conscious of it, this may have prompted me to read A Mathematician’s Apology by G.H Hardy, a book that had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time. Dad’s field was applied mathematics and theoretical physics. He told me stories about famous mathematicians: Gauss, Riemann, Poincaré and Hardy. He told me the story of how Hardy ‘discovered’ the Indian genius, Ramanujan, by seriously considering and reading an unsolicited letter, filled with unconventional mathematical proofs, that Ramanujan sent him.
Dad often told me that mathematics was a young man’s field, an idea at which he may have arrived independently, but is one of the major points of Hardy’s ‘Apology’. Dad tried to interest me in pursuing mathematics; he also suggested (strongly) that I be a doctor, a somewhat typical ambition Jewish parents have for their offspring. Somehow, my mind didn’t bend too much toward mathematics, although I made an attempt, taking one course in the math department in college. But, I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I compromised (rather well, I thought), earning an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and a graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering. Dad was proud of me.
Dad’s daily routine seemed rather humdrum. He went to work every day, some nights he would teach at Steven’s Tech or Fairleigh Dickenson. I was really surprised though when, after he retired, he wrote and published five books, by world-class publishers.
In addition to his love of mathematics, Dad loved music. Every Saturday, we listened to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio. He would follow along in his libretto, conduct the orchestra and sometimes even (try to) sing the tenor parts. It probably sounded good to him, but the rest of us cleared the living room when he started to sing. He and my mother used to play duets, Dad on violin and Mom on piano. I think I remember only one time they played together. They probably did more of that before they had children.
One of my father’s great disappointments in life was my older brother Michael. Mike never communicated with anyone. Using the parlance of the time, Mike was diagnosed in 1951 with profound retardation and autism. In addition to that he never spoke. Mike is in a group home today and still does not speak. I used to talk with Dad about Mike. He told me once: “When Mike came on the scene, I never got a chance to even get started on fulfilling my dream of teaching him, for the bitter irony of it all was that your mother and I could not even communicate the simplest of ideas to that poor unfortunate autistic child.”
One characteristic of my father was that he never gave up. He always had hope that my brother would eventually be able to communicate.
I miss you Dad.