My father Alva Moishe Cohen, or Alvin Marc Cowden as he was known later in life, died December 11, 2008. I am still grieving his loss. Today, on Sunday, Father's Day, I think of him. My cousin Dierdre, who is now 60, whose father was Jerome, the oldest son of three boys, told me in a phone conversation that she grieved the loss of her dad 11 years.
At 58 years old, I met my Jewish cousins for the first time, thanks to helping a friend out with a search for an old friend of his, on Ancestry.com. I found some family information and a partial family tree. I contacted Geoffrey and his wife Billie, and later talked to Dierdre. On Sundays when cell phones for them cost less, or my 71 yr. old Baptist Pastor cousin is done with his Church meeting (Geoffrey is a Messianic Jew) I think of calling them to keep in touch and get to know my family history from an extended family. I know they are waiting for my packet of pictures, which are waiting for me to find, in boxes in a storage unit. Billie typed up the first installment of their history, complete with inserted pictures and sent the letter. I want to reread it. Getting to know family after a lifetime is a bit overwhelming. They lived in Massachusetts, Maine and Florida, (I'll have to recheck the letter) and now South Dakota. I have greatly enjoyed Geoffrey's account of his distant and then close relationship with his father-my Uncle Jerome. As we mature, we can appreciate our parents for their strengths, and not focus so harshly on our less than positive memories. We realize we are just like them, in that despite our good intentions, we are human, also. Learning takes time, and making mistakes in life, or as parents is part of the deal.
My father had two brothers-Jerome and Morton Cohen. They changed their names to Cowden, as in Philly, Jews were still discriminated against in some places, like getting into the universities. There was some quota on how many Jews were allowed in. My Uncle Jerome went to Harvard Law School, and when he graduated, he walked back across the stage and said they had graduated a Jew. As an Attorney at Law, I learned his court documents were so professionally done, well-researched and stated and accurate, complete with being professionally printed, that my Uncle easily won his cases-pretty much before the case was heard. Collecting from his clients was not his strength, nor choosing lasting partners. The boys were raised in Strawberry Mansion, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was no mansion, says Geoffrey. It was the ghetto. My Grandmother, Rebecca Fleet was an impeccable housekeeper, and despite their humble beginnings, inspired her sons to educate and develop themselves.
In their Jewish Orthodox home, the oldest son was treated as the most important. My father and his brother were scarred because of this diminishment and lack of acknowledgment and love. I saw the result of this pain in my father's expression of perfectionism and frustration. His pain was immense, and the world around him often paid dearly for the scars of his history. Later in his life, I took the pieces of his history and let my father see them in a different light, and make sense of them. He said it was the best therapy session he ever had. Another circle of life, with meaning and closure. The daughter that he had left deep lessons in, took her genetic abilities and personality, searched for answers, and delivered them finally, to help her father and herself find peace. The video I made on his history, where his parenting skills, chronology, etc. were discussed, was sent to my sister Alison to distribute to my siblings, so their own lives could be healed after our traumatic childhood. She said she didn't finish the video, and nobody else (8 sibs) wanted to see it. When I was a child, I felt like an orphan, and I still feel like I came from another tribe. One that wanted to know the truth. Someone with some courage. Even as I say that in frustration about my siblings, I know that we all have fears.
Education was stressed, and all of the 3 sons excelled. Morton became a Professor and President? of a Chicago University. Jerome was an Attorney, and later up for appointment for Federal Judge, though he got involved with some interstate fraud with an acquaintance and served time and was disbarred. His father Barney, did not set a great example of honesty, borrowing money and not paying it back. He did this to my father, and feigned running to the train as it left the station at Pottstown, Pa, as my father traveled to Reed College (the Oxford of the West) in Portland, Oregon.
He felt betrayed by his father, and never forgave him, urinating on his grave in San Antonio, Texas. It seems my grandfather had to leave his Philly homegrounds. Not too surprising. My father said he went to Texas, "to be among other thieves." My father said his dad was a screamer, and he hated it, but my father did the same thing.
My father worked in the financial world, in the stock market, but was offended by anti-Semitic remarks by his associate and boss, and left. My father never suffered fools, or had a lot of tolerance for ignorance. In my opinion, we all are ignorant in many areas.
He became a salesman, and had a tough life. His biggest project, (and I see my ability to multi-task and collate/integrate many ideas to create) was to get permission from David O McKay, the Mormon Prophet/Leader to put together a Mormon book of Scripture, or Family Bible. During the collaboration of that project, there was jealousy of my father's abilities, blackmail, etc., until he got a Mormon Attorney, Chris Ronnow from Cedar City, to file a lawsuit against the people involved: Gordon B. Hinckley, Loren Wheelwright (publishing), etc. My father won the suit, but in the small pay-out, never realized the fruition of his work with the royalties, and birthright of intellectual gifts, and struggled financially the rest of his life. He said he saw the corruption of the Mormon Church, and admitted he had also become corrupt in the process. He never discussed how.
He engaged the artist Arnold Friberg to do the artwork, like pictures of Lehi, Nephi, (Book of Mormon characters) etc., and he petitioned other religious organizations like the Catholics to include their art and frescos within the book, to tell the stories of the Bible.
When my father came to stay with me at a time in his older years, we discussed the event of his father's betrayal and fraud, and how he expected his father to act differently than his established behavior. Despite how disappointing it was, and how predictable this scenario might have been, a son would still feel betrayed, so he couldn't help but take his father's habits personally. My father seemed to have a deep loathing of men in general, but revered women. I didn't get to see this, as his relationship with my mother was terribly caustic and flawed.
He loved his Grandma Fleet, or Bubba Fleet as he called her, and found it an honor to accompany her to get the streetcar after her visits. I can only appreciate this softer love and influence, or my father may have been a total monster. People with a high intellectual capability tend to observe more keenly than others, and this analysis can cause despising and retribution, based on one's background wounds, especially those of personal victimization. They have the ability to settle scores and bring justice without much feeling attached. True intelligence is using ones abilities to do good, and leave the world better than found. Arrogance, rationalization and rage create monster behaviors. Intellectual ability is only one area of intelligence, as there is emotional and spiritual intelligence.
Not until I reminded my dad of how much I had to forgive to be able to take him in now that he was old and vulnerable, did he begin to see the lesson had come full circle. Of course with vascular dementia, where the short term memory may be 30 seconds to 5 minutes, we had that discussion several times. I observed that the repetition of short term memory loss was somewhat like I'd imagine Chinese water torture to be. Perhaps it is also to indelibly remind me of these scenarios and lessons for my own life.
My father was so independent, that his social contacts with young Jewish girls whose fathers began making plans for my then-young father to marry their daughters and join them in business, created a breaking off of that relationship. Between the dirty air and water, the sinus problems my father suffered, the traumas of childhood when chased by gangs of kids that could bring pulling ones pants down to show circumcision and beating of a 'Jew', the fathers greedily eying my handsome, intelligent dad, and a host of hurtful family memories, made my father want to get as far away from Philly as he could. Thus came Reed College, on a scholarship, to get to the other coast.
He worked for an extra year after high school as a Pharmacy delivery boy to gather enough money for his other expenses, to get to college. It was this money that his father 'borrowed', and didn't pay back. Just a few short months after arriving at Reed College, World War II began, and everything was disrupted. My father was color blind, and so made oculars for the war effort. After time in Laguna Beach, mixing drinks and making barbecues for his friends, he went to Texas selling oil leases. There he met my raven-haired beautiful Welsh/English/Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutch) mother, when he went into a Phone Company to get some paper. Ten children and 22 tumultuous years later, they divorced. (He later married Sara Leonti in California, lived in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, until his health began to fail. Before my mother, he was married to Florence Blickenstaff, a nurse he met while in a hospital.) He was put on medications, too trusting of his docs, unmonitored, until it affected him by seizures, strokes and behavior issues which lost him his life-saving lunches at the local Senior Center. It was at this point that I was contacted by a brother advising me to leave him there in California to die alone, as 'he was never going to change'. I believe in honoring ones parents, and always felt a bond to my father. I was not his first choice, as I am honest and confrontive. It was indeed what he needed.
My father brought his dislike of men, his impatience for privacy invasions, a superior intellect and short term memory deficit with him. When he lost his personal Physician who had married and went on Pregnancy leave, and my own health failed me with cancer so he had to enter a care facility, the ensuing ignorance and medical abuse eventually cost him his life. He should have been able to live and die at home, in the safety of his daughter's care. The institutions make sure that this much less costly way to support our elderly is not done in this country. If a person has little money, the taxpayer will swallow that bill for monthly care, to the tune of $13,000 to $20,000 while your loved one is held without rights, decent food or proper attention and drugged into a stupor and adult diapers as there is inadequate numbers of staff. One of my father's lasting thoughts was: "But, I didn't do anything."
It was the criminalization of the poor. Unrepresented. Powerless. Uncared for.
Without any Respite Care provided for by the state, except the 96 cents an hour they paid for Relative Foster Care (full time) the system is burning out family members and advancing them closer to their own graves. This practice will perhaps take years to change, if the grip and fraud of pharmaceutical euthanasia and elder care institutions are ever properly investigated and challenged. My father's support systems were thin because of the way he lived his life, but wealthy people all over America are finding themselves with appointed Guardians and their entire life savings looted by the collusion of the judicial system. Maybe one day the American people will wake up to how they treat their elderly, how powerful the Pharmaceuticals have become to push for their profits with drugs and vaccines, and the fact that the 'them' of the elderly has become 'us'.
That story is for another day. On another blog, I wrote a little about it:
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