Back when I was a little kid, growing up on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y., I’d wait for my father to come home from work, then sit on his bed and watch him change from business clothes to casual clothes.
He’d open the brown closet door in the bedroom, slip off his jacket and tie and dress pants and either return them to hangers or place them in a pile for cleaning. In those moments—just before he stepped into jeans and a casual shirt—I thought of Dad’s metamorphosis as Superman to Clark Kent. Dressed up, my father was Superman—a sharp, cool, intelligent CEO of an executive search firm. He made big decisions, hired and fired, brought home the dollars.
Away from that work, however, Dad was all Clark Kent. Neither athletic nor stylish, my father wouldn’t have recognized Lawrence Taylor or Madonna or Patrick Ewing or Michael Jackson. He could not care less about pop culture; didn’t follow trends or try and fit in with other people. In our synagogue, there was a large handful of adults who gathered together to smoke pot. Not Dad. There were others who played on a temple basketball team. Not Dad. We knew people who drove fancy cars; who lived in bigger houses; who always seemed to be bragging about this and that and that and this. Not Dad.
My father, Stanley Pearlman, had simple needs, and he never thought twice how that might appear. If a sweatshirt was comfortable-yet-ill-fitted, he’d wear it, no issue. We’d always try to think of good gifts to buy him, but this remains an eternal enigma. Dad doesn’t long for much of anything. Fun vacations. Random days in the city. He remains most happy with a bagel or piece of chocolate, a newspaper, a warm sun and a comfortable bench.
Sometimes, I must admit, I wanted my dad to be cooler. I looked at some of the other men, and felt they possessed some secret tools that eluded my father. Yet now, looking back, I realize it was Dad who knew the magic formula. He placed family first, career second. He lost nary a night of sleep longing for a new car. He (and my mom, of course) spent wisely and focused primarily on saving. He spoke with me and my brother as if we were adults, and tried to explain the way people think and act and behave. He taught me the importance of a good back scratch and the need to avoid gossip and innuendo.
That the small things can offer the most pleasure.