Letter from my Dad to his speaks movingly across the decades

My dad, Howard Futterman, at left, shortly before he entered the U.S. Navy at the age of 18.

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Last week, I got an unexpected and delightful surprise, just in time for Veteran’s Day.

A cousin passed away last year, and his daughter had gotten around to cleaning out his things. In doing so, she had stumbled across a photo album from my aunt and uncle’s wedding nearly 55 years ago and wondered if I might like it.

Sure, I thought, why not. The package arrived last Thursday.

Tucked into the front of the photo album was a four-page, handwritten letter that my father had sent to his father, on U.S. Navy letterhead, after he had enlisted in 1945. My dad was 18 or 19 years old at the time (the letter was not dated).

It started off: “Dear Dad, Enclosed you will find $15. I am sending it to you as a father’s day present. The fellows here sent cards or presents home but I couldn’t find any card or present that was good enough for you. 

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“The reason for the $15 is that I want you and mom and possibly Bob (his brother) to go out tonite (sic) and have a swell time. Then about 9:30 I would like you to make a toast that some day soon the four of us will go out together. Make believe that I am with you tonite because I will be with you in spirit.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

My dad, Howard Futterman, died more than 17 years ago. When I was young, he would send me the occasional letter, maybe once a summer at camp and later, once a year at college, mostly to say how proud he was of me, and to dispense fatherly advice. Sometimes it wasn’t so much what he said, but the way he said it — like urging me “to keep my wits about me” and being  “a good, virtuous girl” when it came to dating young men. 

“Remember dear daughter,” he once wrote, “Fooling around only leads to trouble.” I didn’t want to guess at what he meant by that.

My dad didn’t write letters much. It wasn’t because he was bad at it; quite the contrary, he could articulate his thoughts very well through writing. 

It was more because of his penmanship. He was told as a kid in grade school it was horrendous, and he believed that to be true throughout his life. 

But I never thought so. I could read my dad’s chicken scratch much better than my mother’s looping cursive. His spelling was sometimes inventive, but it was easy, at least for me, to make out every word when he put pen to paper.

As I read the letter he wrote to his dad, my grandfather, a flood of emotion came over me.

On the one hand, the line he wrote about no card or present being good enough reminded me of something my 19-year-old son would write to my husband today. The fact that my father wrote that to his father nearly 70 years earlier was uncanny.

More amazing though, was my dad’s ability to express his love and gratitude to his father. Again, it wasn’t so much what he said, but the way he said it.

“You know Dad, a fellow doesn’t really appreciate his parents or home until he leaves. I have always loved and admired you Dad and to be with you on this day would be a pleasure and I would give anything for it.”

By the time my father enlisted, World War II was almost over. He was stationed in Bethesda, Md. working as a Navy nurse, though as far as I know, he never left the United States during the two years he served. But when he wrote this letter to his father, he clearly feared danger.

“I think I found out why I am fighting in this war. I think it is so someday (his brother) Bobby and I can be with you and mom and enjoy the pleasure of happiness. For this I will certainly fight hard for and not breathe easy until I can go to the ball game with you and kiss Mom.”

By the second page, I began to sob. I suppose it was the suddenness of the letter appearing, seeing his handwriting, hearing his voice in my head, that pushed me into waterworks territory. In that instance I became aware of how much I missed my father and his unique way with words. Since I could never hug him again, the letter became a welcomed consolation prize.

In closing he wrote: “Well Dad I guess that I could write forever because I love you so much. I can’t express in words why you are the greatest Pop in the world. You have something extra . . .”

I couldn’t have said it better myself because that’s pretty much how I felt about my dad.

When I told my mother about the letter, she remarked how proud my dad was to have served his country. As Veteran’s Day approaches, I’d like to say thank you and God bless to those of you in the St. Louis Jewish community who have done the same.