Facing north from a booth at Corky’s I had the distinct misfortune of hearing the woman at the next table. Sitting adjacent to me, lamentably within earshot, she was, in a methodical gravelly voice, chastising the pour soul across from her. At least twice in her lecture she’d called him “loser”. The first time I focused; it caught my ear. The second time (and maybe the third) I just winced…quietly praying that for his sake he was deaf.

Words hurt. Words hurt. Words hurt. There’s a right way and a wrong way to say things. I was once called “a loser” a lot, and to this day it plays on me.

The best teacher I ever had (bar none) was Virginia Pelander. It wasn’t so much THAT she taught us, it was HOW she taught us. She encouraged students always, win or lose. Never would she embarrass us; never did she proclaim “You are wrong.” Mrs. Pelander’s was a kinder, gentler correction:

“That’s not what I was looking for.”

(Somewhat like the football coach at the sideline greeting a player that’s just fumbled with a pat on the back and a “We’ll get ‘em next time”….rather than barking in his face as a stadium watches).

There’s a right way and a wrong way to express displeasure and my teacher knew it. “I was looking for something else,” she might say.

My Dad knew it too, (perhaps even without knowing it). He raised it, I should note, to an art form. For thirty-five years we shared wins, losses, strengths, faults — everything. Through it all though, he was father first and friend second, and as father first he’d direct me toward right.

—Never would he flinch…but never would he call me names.
—Always would he point out … but never would he demean.

Al Bogart was a black and white person. To him, people, places and things were either good or bad…to be done or not to be done. Bobby, Stuart, Alan, Columbus, always cutting the deck of cards? These were good. Boys with shoulder length hair, Yankee or Wolverine fans or (for God knows what reason) Regis Philbin? Bad. Very bad.

So he had his rules of conduct; he sensed what was best for his boys; he never waivered at guiding us.

— But he never called names, never (even with a smile) groaned “Loser!”, and (but for when I bit my nails), never harped “Don’t”. Speaking often in passion, but always with heart, my imperfect perfect father found loving ways to express even displeasure.

Take my behavior, for example. Sometimes I wouldn’t be doing anything that was technically wrong. “Stupid” would be a more accurate. You know– joking around…perhaps saying something inappropriate in front of my grandmother or aunt.  Boundary stuff.

“You’re not half as funny as you think you are,” he’d remind.

Or like when it came to normal things that most kids did, but that he didn’t think best for me: like playing tackle or hitchhiking down Lee Road to meet the Shaker girls….

“I don’t care if Bobby Snyder’s parents and Alan Wieder’s parents all say it’s OK. You’re not their child.”

Or perhaps it would be a card game. We’d be playing hearts or gin and he’d see me misplay. “Why did you throw that card? he might ask. Or: “Didn’t you figure me for clubs? (Simple questions that would send a lesson).

Our Dad had an uncanny ability to criticize with compassion — to direct his sons with the sternness of Captain Von Trapp and yet the sensitivity of a Jewish Andy Taylor.

“Why do you INSIST on (fill in the blank)?” he might ask. “Where did YOU go to medical school?” he’d inquire.

— Or, when truly exasperated, two of his favorite words: “Must you?”

“I would prefer that you didn’t,” he’d point out. “There must be a better way,” he would say.

— Or, if I’d really upset him, perhaps by repeating the same mistake or wrong behavior…he’d go into a medley of his greatest hits:

“You can’t possibly think what you did would make either your mother or me happy.”….often followed by “Why must you do the things you know will antagonize me?”…punctuated by “Why must you do those things you know are bound to upset most adults?”

(When I got the “most adults” bit I knew he was dotting the I).

I would get the message and accept the message…
With love.

Never was I a loser to my father, though mistakes were made.  Never did he disrespect me, for a single second.

I only wish he had been with me at Corky’s this week. He’d have bristled as the lady spoke; he’d have felt for the guy.  Across our table, moreover, he’d have been whispering:  “Monkeys should fly out of her ass”.

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