My father believed in the power of personal transformation. I wrote this book in his memory.
My Father: A Tribute
My father, Jack David Abramson of blessed memory, was a man of compassion and integrity. Born in 1928 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, he lived his entire life in the small milling community of Ansonville, Ontario (later absorbed into neighboring Iroquois Falls). He was the youngest son of seven siblings, all of whom moved south to pursue careers and build families in Montreal and Toronto. My father chose to stay behind and care for his parents. He eventually took over the family business, a store called Alex Abramson & Son’s Men’s Wear: with characteristic humility, preferred to remain the anonymous “son.” He met my mother at his sister’s wedding in Montreal and married her in 1961. I was born two years later, their only child.
My father deeply believed in giving people second chances. He, along with my mother, had a gift for seeing the best in others, and he always extended himself to help people who were downtrodden or ostracized. He frequently employed young men with juvenile criminal pasts, unmarried mothers shunned by small-town conservatism, and extended informal credit liberally to the unemployed. He owned a few rental properties in town, and often charged rents that did not cover the mortgage, utilities and tax payments. In some cases he didn’t charge rent at all. My father’s business acumen was overwhelmed by his instinct to help anyone in need, and my family lived simply and frugally in a small apartment above the men’s wear store.
My father taught me to ski, and I met my wife, a ski instructor. My father taught me to read, and I became a professor, then a dean. Sometimes when I speak I hear my father’s voice, and it surprises me.
My father never had the benefit of a Jewish education, but he and my mother endured phenomenal self-sacrifice to give me one. Years later, when he was a grandfather many times over, we shared a late night conversation sitting in my minivan parked outside the house. He expressed to me the depth of his personal connection with God. It was awesome in the true sense of the word, and strengthens my own faith to this day.
My father was, fundamentally, an optimist. His business decisions were often fueled by a deep-seated sense that patience and persistence would always win in the end—with some belt-tightening austerity, everything would ultimately be alright. It didn’t always turn out that way, but he remained indefatigably independent-minded. My mother supported his decisions absolutely. On the rare occasions when she disagreed with any of his choices, he was quick to comply. Earning my mother’s love was his most cherished achievement; to the end of his life I believe he retained a sense of wonder that he merited such a devoted wife.
My father was sparing in his praise for his only son, always concerned that he might somehow spoil me. On the contrary, he taught me to celebrate my failures, probing them for whatever lessons I might glean from disappointment. His love was often expressed in unexpected acts of generosity—surprising me with a pair of Rossignol ST Competition skis when my wooden Fischers broke, sending me on a school trip to England as a teenager, helping with the down payment on our house. I know those kinds of things were financially onerous at the time, but my father made them happen. As a father myself, I know how hard it can be to provide for children, and I also know why he did it for me.
I miss you, Dad. I wish I could talk to you sometime. This book is for you. I hope you like it.
Excerpted from Maimonides on Teshuvah: The Ways of Repentance