The Luckiest Bastard

posted Dec 16, 2019

E. Marmer | Free to Navel Gaze

My father Stanley taught me gratitude the way he taught me everything, which is to say, in the fewest words possible. In contrast, when telling a story, or bringing history alive, boy, could he grandstand. His descriptions were drawn out, delicious, almost overdone, but not quite. A consummate natural performer, he never once doubted whether he had the crowd while holding court. And yet, when it came to the personal, he withheld the flamboyance. He withheld the unnecessary. My father conveyed the essential nut of a thing – whether a choice, a betrayal, a triumph, a lesson, a wonder – with a simplicity that never ceased to flabbergast me, humble me and convince me that I was getting truth.

That’s not to say that he was always direct. Despite his brevity, he could indulge in metaphor, but, even then, it was delivered straightly, pointedly. Once when I brought up the lavish life my aunt had had before my uncle lost his “six-figure” executive job and became a hardscrabble salesman of cheap merchandise from China, he said, “You know the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ right?” I waited for it. “I was the tortoise.” He said nothing more. And from that, I comprehended all that he wanted me to. Not just about the comeuppance of the arrogant hare, but about the toil and steadiness, the constancy of the tortoise. About allowing that one brief pat on the back and returning to the task at hand.

On the day my father taught me gratitude, however, he delivered a direct declarative sentence. My mother had thrown him a surprise seventy-fifth birthday party, and the assembled guests were clinking their glasses, saying, “Speech! Speech!” My father stood up, and shook his head slowly with lips pursed for a good long pause, so, at first, I thought we would be treated to Stanley as entertainer, to a poem or funny anecdote or maybe a joke thanking my mother for putting up with him all these years.

“I am the luckiest bastard on earth,” he said. And he sat down.

Everyone clapped and a few people chuckled, and I wondered if their clapping and chuckling was in affectionate response to what they presumed was understandable awkwardness at such a moment. They knew my dad could be gruff; they knew he wasn’t suave. It seemed they wanted to reassure him: “That’s okay. We understand you don’t know what to say.” But I knew my father, in seven words, had said everything. It was all there: his amazement at fifty-three years of marriage to a modest and loving woman, who built their entire social fabric and cared enough about him to throw this party; his pride and relief that his three grown daughters, who fussed over him, turned out to be accomplished, well-adjusted people he didn’t have to worry about; his pleasure at grandchildren in varying stages of development, the sixteen-year streak of girls finally, finally broken with a boy; satisfaction in the restaurant catering paid for in full with the fruits of his and my mother’s labors; even anticipation of his accustomed evening in his recliner with a book and a pipe, and his fat belly.

E. Marmer | Free to Navel Gaze

All of those things were there, and something more, the essential bedrock for gratitude. My father told us that he wasn’t entitled to any of it. He was the “luckiest bastard,” just a random guy, a shmo, a tortoise, a self-educated beat cop for 30 years who got to come home to a hot meal and three girls being raised right by his beautiful, capable wife, she a respected teacher to boot. It wasn’t luck, of course, but a bounty collected, earned, one small decision, one small commitment at a time. He didn’t see it that way, though. His humility and astonishment at what he considered sheer dumb luck formed the best blueprint for gratitude I would ever receive. I follow it still.

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  1. Second Publication by Read650 | Free to Navel Gaze - […] essay “The Luckiest Bastard” will be included in the written collection “Gratitude” compiled by Read650 in […]

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