In honor of Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, June 18; the second anniversary of my father’s passing two days after that; and his yahrtzeit on June 27, I am doing something I’ve meaning to do for many years now — finding a way to share my father’s letters with a wider audience.
My dad, Harvey Jerome Kalem, a.k.a. Chaim Yehuda Ben Shlomo Hakohen, a.k.a. Chaim Yehuda Strong as Bull, a.k.a. Mr. Kalem, a.k.a. Papa Harv never got the hang of email. Or the internet. He frequently claimed to have given up on technology when I beat him at Ms. Pac Man, and, since he mostly stuck to this vow of abstinence, my siblings and I often lamented it as we humans barreled into the information age. Harv was a lover of knowledge, a natural-born storyteller, a terrible speller, and, as you’ll soon see, a funny and authentic writer. He would have loved email and Wikipedia (and spell check) but he never owned a smartphone or had an email address. (As you’ll soon see, he would have hated Facebook.)
Luckily, he wrote letters. I have stacks of them tucked away in various boxes throughout my apartment, and one day I’ll conquer my fear of silverfish and sort through my hoard of paper ephemera to gather them all together. I do currently have access to a pile of about ten, starting in 2003 (two years after I made my second move to California) and ending with a short note in 2013 (two years before he died). My plan is to transcribe my five favorite in the coming weeks.
Here’s the first, a short one from December of 2003. It’s a little down-in-the-dumps but I think it’s a good introduction to some of his recurring epistolary themes: Lists, his weight, The Republicans, and what’s good and what’s frustrating about me. Spelling and punctuation errors are Harv’s.
I’ve started a letter to you 3 times. I’ve gotten as far as 3 pages on one, and I’ve scrapped them all, for one reason or another, mainly because they were very morose. I’ve been in the doldrums for awhile. Unhappy with my weight, my life as a caregiver for Grandma, and most of all the Republicans and Georgie B.
Like golf, when you play badly, you know it will pass and you will start playing better. Life is like that — its down for awhile and then things start looking up. I’ve made my list — on one side what’s shit in my life, and on the other what’s good. And the results always make me feel better. Things are good for me, just a few bumps that are driving me crazy.
Enclosed is a Chanukah present. Enjoy it.
Your letter was great and confirms what I always knew. You are a very bright, smart woman who is trying to find her place in this life. My advise is try not to be so introspective about everything. Sometimes its best to go with the flow and just accept what goes on. On the other hand who am I to give advice. I sure made my share of mistakes in my life.
I’m really not in the mood to write any longer. Forgive me.
Once again — I love you, miss you and am looking forward to seeing you in Feb.
Love & a hug — your dad