Even in death, my dad knew something about timing

It has been seven years since my father died of heart failure in May 2000 at age 86. In some ways, he died before his time. In other ways, he died just in time. Sure, I miss him terribly, and I feel bad that he missed seeing my two sons mature from grade-schoolers to teens, and wasn’t around to watch my twin daughters blossom from preschoolers into preteens.

But I also am grateful for what he has been spared.

Often I go through the balance sheet in my head. On the negative side, I’m sad that my father didn’t live to find out that the name “Ari” has become quite popular, if not mainstream. When my husband and I chose that name for our first-born 18 years ago, my father was taken aback, and warned us that we were branding our son as ultra-Jewish.

I understood where he was coming from.

My father took pains to shed his Orthodox Jewish roots and become all-American when he emigrated from Russia to the United States, changing his name as a young adult from Abraham to Albert, and taking on “Michael” as a middle name for good measure. He became known as “Al” to my mother and their friends, and as “Mike” to his business associates. He wasn’t ashamed of his Jewish roots — he just didn’t want to give anyone the ammunition to shoot down his ambitions.

If only my father had lived to see George W. Bush’s press spokesman, Ari Fleischer, on the nightly news. He would have gotten a kick out of that, and would have been secretly relieved. He would have been tickled to see famous Ari’s popping up everywhere, from National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro to fictional Hollywood agent Ari Gold on HBO’s “Entourage.”

Then again, the pleasure over the presence of Ari Fleischer on the White House staff would have been tempered by my father’s outrage over how Ari Fleischer’s boss came into power, and the shenanigans over the 2000 election. It would have pained my father to no end that his adopted state, Florida, cost Al Gore the election.

On the other hand, my father would have kvelled when Al Gore won the Democratic nomination for president in the first place, and would have been doubly thrilled when he chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Dad was a rabid Al Gore fan, and had singled out the senator from Tennessee as presidential material long before the election season of 2000. He would have viewed Gore’s choice of an Orthodox Jew as his V.P. as further evidence of Gore’s brilliance and worthiness of higher office.

While I’m sad Dad missed out on being able to cast a vote for the Gore/Lieberman presidential ticket, his idea of a dream team, I’m glad he was safely six feet under when 9/11 hit. If he wasn’t already dead, the shock and horror of watching the World Trade Center towers crumble probably would have killed him. He would have taken it personally, even though he was 1,000 miles away in Miami Beach.

An ardent Zionist (who at one point took a stab at aliyah), he would have been equally devastated by the epidemic of suicide bombings in Israel during the second intifada. And if the manmade disasters didn’t do him in, the natural ones would have, from the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina. Each disaster would have intensified his already melancholy outlook on the world, and given him one less reason to live.

Closer to home, had he lived to see it, he likely would have been struck by a heart attack when the letter arrived telling him he was being dumped by his HMO. It would have been his worst fear coming true. And if the HMO’s callous treatment didn’t kill him, then the new Medicare drug program surely would have finished him off. Dad barely got by on his meager Social Security checks, and would have been hard-pressed to come up with the hefty payments required by most of the new drug plans.

Flipping again to the other side of the balance sheet, I’m sorry my father didn’t live to see his two grandsons ace their bar mitzvahs and, equally important, break the family height record. I always suspected that my father’s growth had been stunted by his traumatic childhood as a very hungry refugee on the run from the Russian Revolution.

He would have gotten nachas from watching his grandsons tower over him, and would have viewed their very respectable heights as a further guarantee of fitting into American society.

Even if one of them is named Ari.

Brenda Kahn is a freelance writer in Berkeley.