Four dads on fatherhood — and grandfatherhood

BY SUSAN FADEM, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

In the journey known as life, fatherhood is no pit stop. Beyond the initial joy and shock of 24/7 responsibility, parenting has an ongoing way of giving and demanding, often in unimagined ways. In honor of Father’s Day on June 21, four dads share their stories.

The importance of being Grandpa

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Bob Perlman, of Chesterfield, figured his days as a primary, under-roof dad were long past. Retired as a mathematician with U.S. Department of Defense and also from the St. Louis Science Center, he celebrates his 55th wedding anniversary with Myra next year. The Perlmans have two daughters, a son and five grandchildren.

But a decade ago, Bob and Myra’s son-in-law, Gary Zeid, 42, died shortly after surgery to remove malignant polyps. Gary left behind his wife, Lori, and two children: Justin, then 8, and Joshua, 3.

The Perlmans baby-sat. They took the boys to various places. And when Justin needed more attention, they gave it. When Justin fixated on fountains, Bob and Myra took him to Kansas City, known in Chamber-of-Commerce parlance as “The City of Fountains.” Bob immortalized that trip, plus a subsequent one, in a photo album he made for Justin and titled: “Grandma, Grandpa and Justin’s Fountain Tour to Kansas City.”

When Justin, fascinated by roads, would reel off every intersection before his grandparents reached it, they’d listen. To nurture Justin’s present intrigue with clocks, Bob gave him three clocks to repair. Justin telephones Bob several times daily. He regularly asks to join his grandparents for dinner and typically spends more time at their house than with his own family in Chesterfield.

Justin, 18, graduated last month as valedictorian at Fern Ridge High School in the Parkway School District. Fern Ridge, according to the school’s handbook, blends “academic preparation with life skills in a supportive environment to meet the needs of students” who have not fully succeeded in other educational programs.

Justin plans to attend St. Louis Community College at Wildwood and hopes to become an engineer. “It’s not that I don’t love all my grandchildren,” Bob says, “but I feel more for Justin. His other grandfather died. I’m the main male figure in his life.”

The joy of becoming a dad

Zach Abeles, of University City, is a new-ish dad. He married Jenny two years ago, and their son, Sam, will be 7 months old on June 12.

Though Zach prepared for years for his career as a lawyer, he says nothing prepared him for fatherhood. “It’s ridiculously hard to put into words what it means to be a dad,” he says. “But when I get home and Sam is bouncing up and down because he recognizes me, all the stress disappears.” After marriage, he adds, he was so happy he couldn’t remember what it was like not to be married. “And now, I can’t remember what it was like to not have Sam around. I would do anything for this kid.”

Worries never cease

What parenting has done for financial advisor Jason Becker, he laughingly admits, is make him worry. Married for seven years to Christina, they have two sons – Blake, 5, and Carson, 2.

And while the boys give him endless joy, they’ve also introduced him to worry–about schools, sports for the boys, safety and other issues. As a father, St. Charles resident Jason says:”You don’t live day-to-day. You’re looking at the future. It’s not, ‘OK, We can buy this or buy that.’ Now you’re trying to do more of the planning, more boring things. But boring is good. Boring is OK. Really.”

Blended families that blend

Both personally and professionally, Ed Koslin thinks a lot about fatherhood. He started dating Fran Weintraub, who is also a psychotherapist with a master’s in social work, when Fran’s daughter, Jessi , was 4 or 5. They married when Jessi was 6; soon she will be 27.

It’s not unlike Ed to mark milestones by when they occurred in his stepdaughter’s life. In the family’s Olivette home, he keeps a now-yellowed drawing Jessi made of a mustachioed man she labeled “Dad.” Ed was then the only man with a mustache in her life. Jessi, whose biological father lives in the state of Washington, was in kindergarten at the time.

Ed’s own father died when he was 20. “I’ve spent a lot of my life looking for male mentors,” he says. “Actually, I still do.” The most influential man in his life, and his role model in raising Jessi, was his uncle Maurice. “He didn’t have an agenda of what I needed to be, what I ought to be,” says Ed, who grew up in Chicago.

Far more than material things, Ed believes, the most important legacy a father can leave is the stories his children retell – of Dad tripping over their shoes, of Dad keeping a crayon drawing for 20-plus years.

And what about worrying about our children? It changes as they age, says Ed, but it never goes away. Never.