My father died this evening. He lived until the age of 95 and some three months, the last 3 months much less so. My mother lives in Los Angeles while I live in Israel. Due to the travel and quarantine limits, I am unable to travel to participate in the funeral and necessary mourning. It leaves a strange and uncomfortable feeling that hopefully will be rectified in the not so distant future. Yet, this non-social distancing is unavoidable and no one’s fault.
On my last visit in January, my father dictated his obituary to me to type. I can therefore tell you how he saw his life.
Melvyn S. Rifkind was born on March 8, 1925 in the Bronx to the late Joseph and Rebecca Rifkind, née Spector. He served in World War II in the 10th Armor Division, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and Metz and was wounded twice. After the end of the war, he attended the University of Georgia school of Journalism and then worked for the AP in the South. He entered the field of financial and corporate public relations and eventually founded of the largest independent firms on the west coast. He is survived by his wife, Gabrielle, and two children, Jacques and Stephen, as well as two grandchildren.
Those may be facts but children view a different but no less true reality. My father was man of example, not words. He would listen carefully to what I had to say, carefully choose his words and mean them, and then respect my right not to follow his advice. Only as an adult did I appreciate that he would the suggest the way of the mensch in any situation as he applied it to his own life. More amazing, after I had done it my way yet again, like move to Israel, he held no grudges and starting the next day anew. It took great effort to get on my dad’s “shit list”.
As we share many of the same traits, my dad and I never talked much even when we spent time together as adults. This silence was not out of hostility or indifference but the result of unspoken communication. It was a quiet of comfort. As I have no longer “needed” him for many years, we were able to appreciate each other.
As I am unable to sit a proper shiva, I would like to share three of our moments together. I will never forget the image of my father, at the age of 70, sheepishly eating his first oyster (of the many to come) as we all were devouring a huge plate of fruits de mer in their house in Beg Meil, a village in Brittany in France. I also retain a picture of Sunday evenings struggling through the LA Times crossword puzzle, experiencing satisfaction or frustration depending on the result. Finally, after he completely retired, we would watch NY Yankee games on TV. He never failed to praise Didi Gregorius, whether for his hitting or his name. These typify our moments together.
I was lucky to enjoy my father for many years. I wish he had had as much luck dying, as my great grandmother would say, as he had living but we don’t control either. In a certain sense, he would appreciate receiving a written eulogy from his son as, after all, he was an old newspaper man. He would probably do some redlining for the same reason. May his memory be blessed. He will be missed.