Growing Up Together Without Dad
“How would you boys feel about changing your last name
to ‘Grossman’?” my mother inquired of me and my brother
Ron. It seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Two years passed since our parents had divorced. Our mother, at
thirty-one years of age, very pretty and quite available, attracted
the attention of several suitors. One was a Mr. Harold
Grossman, a fine gentleman and successful businessman, to
whom she had just recently announced her engagement.
“Do what, Mom?” Ron asked incredulously. As my older brother,
I let him take the lead here.
“Well,” she began, taken aback by the abruptness of Ron’s
response, ‘I thought it might be a good idea if Mr. Grossman
adopted you boys after we’re married.”
“Well, we have Dad and it’s a terrible idea,” Ron retorted,
an opinion with which I was in complete accord.
“I just thought …” Mom said defensively, backing off at Ron’s
vehemence. Before she could complete her sentence, Ron had
grabbed me by the arm.
“Ronald, where are you taking him?’ Mom demanded to
“We’ll be back later before dinner, Mom! Come on,” he
whisked me away.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Got any money? Ron grinned mischievously.
“I got a quarter.”
“Good enough for a couple of games of pinball.”
“Hey yea!” I happily agreed. “What was Mom talking about?”
“You got me,” Ron answered, holding on to my shirt sleeve.
We loved Mom then as we do now forty-five years later. What
she was thinking that day I really can’t say.
We stopped and looked both ways before crossing
Olive Street to Nelson Burton’s Bowling Alley where we
spent the remainder of the afternoon. You could get an
entire day’s worth of entertainment from a quarter in those
days. Besides we knew how to rig the pinball machines to win
free games. As for Mom, she never said another word about
We lived in St. Louis and Dad in Chicago. While true we saw him
much too infrequently, it would have been an act of betrayal of
our own father had we assented to Mom’s idea. To this day, I
cannot fathom how Mom thought such a notion a good idea.
Can you imagine how it would have crushed him? Do you see? A
father’s presence, even if only periodic, makes a positive
As unlikely as it may seem, Dad’s absence didn’t cause the positive
influence he exercised in my life to wane. On a daily
basis, however, I credit my brother Ron for the important role he
played in this respect. Though only eighteen months older than I,
Ron stepped into some pretty big shoes. Before we moved to St.
Louis, Dad had spent a lot of time at work, building up his new
dental practice for our sake.
This, Ron explained, accounted for his absence at home.
“You got that? So no sad face if he forgets to load up his trunk,
okay?” Ron admonished me, referring to Dad’s previous visit
when he had forgotten to bring down his usual stash of toys.
“Okay, okay I got it,” I said resignedly. Ron understood earlier
than I that we were, in fact, doubly fortunate because our loving
mother and grandmother worked hard to make it less painful for
us to adapt to our daily lives without Dad. While Dad’s absence
was not the worst thing imaginable, we would have certainly
welcomed a reconciliation.
Dad spoiled us terribly when he made the trip down. We did, after
all, have a lot of catching up to do in fewer than forty-eight
Besides the indispensable stuff like eating and our Sunday
morning driving lessons, Ron, Dad and I adhered to a fairly
set routine. Saturdays were always rough and tumble, two kids
against one dad, It was simply loads of fun. I mean what kid
couldn’t enjoy giant kosher pickles packaged in brine-filled
plastic bags, drive-in movies, wrestling in Holiday Inn
motel rooms, pocket billiards, bowling and go-carts?
We even sat through four showings of “Sergeants Three”, a full-
length feature starring Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank
Sinatra and Dean Martin. The old Esquire Theatre, back in the
days when movie theaters, were architectural pieces of art, was, I
believe the only movie house in the greater St. Louis area
featuring the movie. I was quite pleased to discover that my dad,
when I questioned him about it forty-five years later, recalled
every detail of that long afternoon together.
As enjoyable as our time was with Dad, being with him fewer than
forty-eight hours once every three to four months wasn’t
enough. My parents spoke together over a cup of coffee in
Mom’s kitchen on those Sunday mornings just before Dad would
head back to Chicago.
“Do you think they’re talking about getting married again?” I
That’s ‘gotta’ be the dumbest question in the world,” he
indelicately responded. God, I hated those meetings. This one,
however, was the preface to something very different and exciting
because we were about to do what a contemporary crooner
advised in a popular song of the day.