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Essay: Dad was creative - and complicated

Bernard Sherman was a complicated soul who could be very funny at times, but also withdraw into his thoughts.

Bernard Sherman, father of Opinions writer Sylvia Essman,

Bernard Sherman, father of Opinions writer Sylvia Essman, of Plainview, in a photo from around 1969. Photo Credit: Essman Family Photo


On Father’s Day, we tend to applaud our fathers for the wonderful things they’ve done. I can do that about my father, Bernard Sherman, but I’m also inclined to tell the fuller story of an intelligent, multitalented but sometimes tortured man.

Dad had so many interests: He created beautiful stained-glass frames for his own paintings and poetry, sculpted human and animal forms, built kitchen cabinets and other furniture, at one time played drums in a symphony orchestra and taught college-level anatomy.

He was a podiatrist, but that wasn’t his first choice of profession. He wanted to be a physician, but with a family to support, he felt he couldn’t devote time to go to medical school.

Growing up in Boston, my father earned a pilot’s license at age 16. After our family moved to Freeport when I was 13, he flew planes at Zahn’s Airport in North Amityville. He gave me and my three siblings rides, and he seemed happiest up there in the clouds — his escape from earthly matters that weighed on him.

His parents had divorced when he was 13, and he never stopped mourning about that. He would tell me how much they seemed to love each other, and he couldn’t accept their parting.

My mother, Rose, my siblings and I knew that my father’s moods were like the tides, and you never knew which he was in. We learned to quietly take the measure of him when he came home. If he was silent, he might be in a bad mood, abrasive and critical. When he was in a good mood, he cheerfully embraced us and asked us about our days.

I think what destroyed him was losing his brother in World War II. My Uncle Eddie was younger than my father, but my dad looked up to him and adored him.

One time, Uncle Eddie came home on a surprise furlough during his military service. He hid when he heard my father’s key in the door of our apartment, and jumped out at him. I had never witnessed such an emotional scene. I watched from my bedroom as my father wrapped himself around his brother and laughed and cried. After that, my parents had a premonition that they would never see Eddie again, and they were right. My uncle, an Army bombardier, died at age 27 when his airplane was shot down over Germany near the end of the war.

All his life, my father was devoted to his family. When I had an emergency appendectomy at age 9, he came to the hospital every day for a week. He was there when I woke up and again before I went to sleep. He brought me a doll I had coveted and a record of a song about a ballerina that I wanted.

Later, all four of us children went to college and some to graduate school — he would not have it any other way.

An enduring memory is of a surprise visit he made to the State Teachers College at New Paltz (my school’s name then), on a snowy night to deliver an evening gown I needed for a college event. I hadn’t expected him to drive up from Long Island, but there he was outside the campus union building with snow falling on him and the sea-green tulle gown over his arm.

My father died from a bad heart at the age of 68 in 1980. He was a complicated soul who could be very funny at times, but also withdraw into his thoughts.

I wish I had had more conversations with him, but I was usually afraid it wasn’t the right time. Maybe he’ll somehow know I wrote this essay.

 Reader Sylvia Essman lives in Plainview.


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