My Father, Saul Haffner

Saul Haffner.jpg

Saul Haffner, 1930-2017

My dad, Saul Haffner, would have wanted to be here.  He loved being the center of attention.  Saul wanted to be with us for at least another 13 years.  Saul loved life, loved his life, and loved all of you.

Saul lived WELL.  He told me in June that the problem he saw with being 87 was that no one would say, “he was too young to die.”  But, of course to all of us, he was too young.  Any age would be too young to lose him. I am so grateful that he was able to fight against the mysterious illness that took him to be at Alyssa’s and Emily’s weddings and to co-officiate at Abigail’s.  None of us thought those would happen. 

My dad was brilliant and wise, as all of us who ever heard him speak or teach knew.  He loved learning and he loved teaching.   He loved travel, photography, theater, golf, watching sports, performing weddings and keeping up with politics. 

Saul wasn’t the best father of small children – but he was a great father to adults.  He liked all of us, including the grandchildren, better when we were able to talk with him about ideas or where we could share an experience with him.  He adored being the family patriarch – and I’m sure that none of us, including the son-in-laws and all of the 8 grandchildren will ever celebrate a seder without thinking about the Passovers at his table.  Or the Thanksgiving blended family adventures.

Saul’s last few years were diminished in some ways as his memory started to fail him and he no longer took delight in being surrounded by people.  But, in some ways, he became kinder, sweeter, and more attentive.  As his short-term memory started to fail him, he learned to concentrate on you in a way that his active mind in his earlier years prevented.  He lived well in the present moment.

Three years ago, as my dad was struggling to regain the ability to walk in a rehabilitation center, I said, “Dad, I’m so sorry about all of this.”  He replied, “It’s not so bad.  I read the New York Times, I watch a ball game on TV, you girls come to visit, they bring me my food, and a trainer comes to work me out twice a day.  If this is what my life is now, I’m okay.”  He defined his “good enough day.” I was so taken with his acceptance, his patience, and I told him I’d include that story in his eulogy. He made me promise to speak at his funeral.

I am flooded with so many memories – from trips we took when Jodi and I were children, to the wonderful trip to the Galapagos with Barbara and Saul, to his teaching me to golf, to the 80th birthday cruise to nowhere – to talking to my dad as we both discovered the Bible and him helping me learning Hebrew from his long-ago yeshiva lessons. How grateful I am to have had a father who he believed in me, who taught me that I could do or be anything, who I knew was always there for me.

Saul and I shared a love of religious leadership and scholarship. He was delighted that I was a minister, and I think he would have liked to have been young enough to study to be a rabbi.  He never stopped studying religion and I am grateful that I will receive all his Bible books.  He often said he wished we could do a wedding together.  I’m so sad that isn’t to be.

Saul called me about ten years ago, excited that he had found a wonderful poem by Henry Scott Holland to read at someone’s memorial service.  I’ve used it several times since, and to conclude, I share it with his voice in my mind today: 

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, 
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight? 

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.