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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Death Wins One

Back in California. Just made it in time for my father's death.

He was 94, and, as the all-knowing "they" say, he had a pretty good run. As readers of this little blog might remember, he came from a town in Morocco in the part of that North African country that formed the "Spanish Protectorate." He was born a Jew in a Muslim country under Catholic Spanish rule. He always seemed to find the odd niche to fill, the hard-to-categorize, he was, shall we say, an off-brand. This failure to stay within easily defined boundaries would follow him for the rest of his life, both professionally and personally.

He arrived, by ship from England, in New York City on Christmas Eve 1950, with an American visa, $200 in tens, and the address of the local YMCA in his pocket. He had always wanted to live in America. He briefly flirted with the idea of living in Britain, but the UK in 1950 was not a cheery place. It certainly was not America. So, off he went. My mother followed shortly after.

We moved a lot. We lived all over the country (NY, VA, Territory of Hawaii, and many places in CA) and spent a great deal of time overseas as he had to return on several occasions to deal with family issues in Morocco and Spain.  It was not easy getting his Spanish credentials accepted in the USA of the 1950s. The AMA had successfully blocked most foreign graduates and required extensive retraining and internships. He waged a constant battle to get accepted as a doctor, and some of his most colorful stories involved dealing with hospital administrators and doctors to get himself established. He, however, spoke several languages, had excellent surgical skills, and went on to became a highly successful doctor (psychiatry, neurology, and neurosurgery) and one who found 90% of medicine to be "nonsense," his favorite word.

He was restless, and kept a passport, a .38 revolver, and several thousand dollars in a cigar box under his bed, "When you're Jewish and have lived in Europe, you learn to be ready to go immediately." He was an ardent defender of the Second Amendment. He thought it amazing and a tribute to the wisdom of the nation's founders that a private citizen legally could arm and defend himself.

Back to his views on medicine. He would often say that the only real discoveries in medicine were aspirin, codeine, laxatives, and antibiotics--everything else was, well, "nonsense." Did he really believe that or was he trolling? Hard to tell. He certainly had little respect for psychiatry, but at the same time used his considerable analytical skills honed in psychiatric practice to evaluate people and, frankly, as noted, to make a lot of money in businesses not even remotely related to medicine. He was also something of a celebrity expert witness in countless civil and criminal trials. He was famous for interrupting cross-examining defense lawyers with, "Stop that nonsense! The man knew exactly was he doing. He deserves the gas chamber."

He made a lot of money, helluva lot, but didn't seem to care much about the stuff. Aside from his medical practice, he was something of a stock market and real estate wizard. We, however, lived very middle class lives, no particular luxuries, one b/w TV, older cars, and never knew we were quite wealthy. I only got an inkling when once, in the late 1960s, I glimpsed his IRS returns and was stunned by the yearly income; I felt sure there was a misplaced decimal point. I never saw him attach any importance to money except as it provided a means to achieve independence, and get away from the "idiots." He was always searching for ways to get away from the "idiots." He lived frugally, drove old and battered cars, dressed modestly, and rarely splurged on anything except cigars and wine. He had, yes, a rusty three-cylinder Geo which he drove to fancy Beverly Hills restaurants and parked next to the gleaming Bentleys, BMWs, Cadillacs, etc., of the ostentatiously and supposedly rich. Tired of the constant jibes about his car, he had business cards made to hand sneering parking valets and dinner partners reading, "Yes, but unlike you, I actually have money."

He smoked four or five cigars daily until about year or so before his death, drank copious amounts of wine and cognac, ate prodigious amounts of red meat, devoured chocolate chip cookies, and never did an hour's worth of exercise in his life: "Just like Churchill," he would say. He laughed off advice to stop smoking, start exercising, and "clean up" his act. "Doctors don't know anything," he would say while he sat in his office wearing his Louis Farrakhan bowtie, puffing on a cigar, reading Bertrand Russell ("An idiot, but he writes well") and waiting for patients.

He passed much of his life in Malibu. My mother refused to live there and spent her time at a huge house in San Marino. The Malibu house sat, quite literally, on the edge of the continent, right where the ocean and the beach do battle. Unless you lived on a boat, you couldn't get closer to the sea. During storms, the house would get hit by waves--even a seagull and an odd fish or two got flung into the living room through the always open sliding glass doors. We kids hated and ridiculed the place--everything was wet, rusted, or moldy. He, however, loved living there especially when the tourists were blocked by coast highway closings caused by mudslides, brush fires, earthquakes, storms, or some bizarre Malibu car accident, e.g., a drunk wrapping a Ferrari around a telephone pole and bringing the thing crashing down on the road. Why did he live there? He apparently had a perverse pride in living in a very uncomfortable place, and he loved the sea lions and the whales that paraded by the house. He actually worried about the whales, "Poor things, always in that cold water." And dogs. He loved dogs. He hated anybody who abused animals.

He lived surrounded by but oblivious to the Hollywood set. For years, for example, his neighbor, was a very famous comedian and actor, of whom my father had never heard. On the rare occasion he would go to the local temple, he would meet the Hollywood elite--and genuinely have no idea who they were. The last movies he had seen were "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Gigi." He wouldn't go to movies because he was no longer allowed to smoke in the theater, and, yes, "they are all nonsense made by homosexuals and Communists." Mind you, he said this decades ago.

Smoke. As a child, my world was enveloped in cigar smoke. Everything, houses, cars, clothes, and his offices, smelled of cigars. In addition, it seemed that everywhere in those houses and offices, every conceivable space, was packed with books. He loved books and insisted that I read them, too. I was the only kid in Miss Sarzin's fifth grade class who had read Winston Churchill's six-volume history of WWII, and gave ponderous book reports on Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer," Sir James Frazer's "The Golden Bough," and Sigmund Freud's "Moses and Monotheism." I was unbearable--a trait I have nurtured. At least, however, I didn't smoke cigars or swill cognac, well, not in class.

He thought America was the best country on earth, thanks to "the rednecks. They defeated the Nazis, nobody else did." He detested Europe, "pretentious anti-semitic idiots." He also thought that America was headed for serious trouble as it got further and further away from its Anglo roots. He refused to call the left "liberals," and decades ago took up calling them "Communists," to the chagrin of the very PC Malibu and West LA crowd. He saw the 1965 immigration law as the biggest disaster in our history, and loathed America's secularized Jews, "They don't appreciate what we have here." He, himself, of course, was an immigrant with no Anglo roots, had a love of Chinese culture and history, and rarely went to temple. He was a strong supporter of Israel, gave lots of money to the country and even to Rabbi Meir Kahane, but openly stated he could never live there, "A nation of New Yorkers!" He hated New York, and loved Los Angeles and Miami. He also, by the way, hated universities, saying no great idea ever came out of a university--but, nevertheless, insisted that all of us go to university. "Get that stupid piece of paper, but don't pay attention to those stupid professors," was his advice re "higher" education.

Soon after becoming a US citizen, he had voted for JFK and LBJ, but after 1964, became a 100% Republican voter. He had a deep understanding of politics and hated political correctness. He correctly predicted not only that Obama would become President well before he was a major player, but, most surprising, started telling me around 2004 that Trump was destined to become President. He voted for Trump, and one of the last things he saw was the TV coverage of the American Embassy opening in Jerusalem. "Trump knows how to play the game," he said.

Neither he nor I was ever sure if he approved of my choice of career. He had a pretty low regard for the State Department. I remember shortly after I joined in 1978, he asked what my salary was. I proudly told him, $14,700. He looked puzzled, puffed on his cigar, and said, "OK, $14,700 a month is OK, but ..." When I noted that it was $14,700 a year, he was horrified, "You'll never be independent!" He, nevertheless, did visit us at several assignments, but almost died in Bolivia from the altitude.

It's hard to say things about people like him because there's so much to say, and it doesn't all make sense. There is no well-defined narrative. His funeral is Friday--we are trying to get all the kids in for it--and I have been asked to speak. Don't know what I am going to say, but maybe the best thing would be to play Frank Sinatra's version of "My Way." He certainly did do it that way. Maybe that's the narrative.

78 comments:

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing all that with us -- he sounds like a really amazing man. I'm very sorry for your loss but glad to have heard of him.

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  2. Sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing what was an interesting and unconventional life. I am no longer surprised by the depth and wit of your posts.

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  3. My deepest condolences. He was obviously an eccentric, but real man. Few and far between.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Thank you for sharing memories of your father. The world has less light shining on all of us. How wonderful your children were able to know their amazing grandfather. I tip my hat to your father. Peace.

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  6. I never know what to say at funerals either, but perhaps a few of these great stories of his life might be in order, and illustrative, of the great personality of your dad. Heart felt condolences, your dad was truly an independent and thoughtful man.

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  7. He was 94, and, as the all-knowing "they" say, he had a pretty good run.

    And as anyone with a bit of sense adds-- if he was any good in the run, it was far too short.

    I'm sorry for your loss.

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  8. Adios Compatriot!```
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzQQoUx1oOU
    Salud to irascible Rednecks!

    On Watch~~~

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  9. Condolences. Our parents rarely live long enough.

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  10. The world has changed, and people have changed. In the earlier years, the years your dad grew up in, it was totally up to the individual unless the family was wealthy. Each individual was shaped by the forces surrounding him or her. But more and more, it is not so much the individual. Society lends a helping hand. But the lends can have a high interest rate: less individuation, more blending. Kind of like the actors of today vs yesterday. Yesterday, each had interesting lives before they became actors. Now the interesting lives are the characters they play. Your dad was a real individual in many senses of the word, and I appreciate your sharing some aspects of his life.

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  11. Condolences on your loss. From your story, I have to think the world is a little bit poorer place without your father.

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  12. What a lovely tribute to the man that made you.

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  13. What an amazing man your father was! Thank you for sharing those memories, and condolences on your great loss.

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  14. My condolences on your loss- your father sounds like he was quite the man, and one with whom I would have enjoyed drinking cognac and smoking a cigar.

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  15. "Don't know what I am going to say..."

    Based on this post, I think you know what to say. It is an excellent eulogy.

    My condolences. May he rest in peace.

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  16. It's a tough call but I think this is your best piece ever.

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  17. I do not know the attribution but it goes like this, "The only thing wrong with money is the idiots printing it."

    Money isn't the root of all evil. It's the evil that men do that's the root of all evil.

    God bless you Mr. Anselem and God bless the memory of your father. May Heaven be able to take his like in!

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  18. He sounds like a good man, and you were fortunate to know him. May our Creator watch over him, and us.

    My condolences on your loss.

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  19. Ave Atque Vale Sir.
    Wished I could have spent a day in his company when he was on a roll.
    What a life.

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  20. Thank you for sharing these memories. Condolences for your loss

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  21. I bet he's raising hell where he's at now. The divine had better look out, an original is on his way. That he was Lewis, my sympathies.
    James

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  22. My families condolences and prayers are with you. From your writing, your father was a True American. As for the Eulogy...just reading this blog post would make him proud.
    I am not Jewish, but id I may (and forgive me if I butcher this)...
    Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyonvi’Yerushalayim

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  23. I have met a few people like him. But not recently. His generation produced some great ones. You are a lucky man.

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  24. He lived long and well.

    Condolences.

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  25. Lewis, I am truly sorry for your loss. May time ease the pain and may your memories comfort you and your family.

    Sincerely,
    RPL

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  26. "In those days there were giants in the earth, men of great renown.".

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  27. My sincere condolences to you and your family on the passing of your father. He seemed to have quite the zest for life and a down to earth regard for what is really important in life. Thanks for sharing a little of his journey with us. God bless.

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  28. What a life to celebrate! It is never easy to say goodbye, but so wonderful that your remarkable father will live on in the memories of those who knew him.

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  29. My condolences for you and your family's loss.

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  30. My condolences. Keep telling us stories about him and your mother.

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  31. What a great profile ! 94 years is enough. My mother lived to 102 but no cigars. She hated to give up her martinis at 95, though.
    A friend of mine , a psychiatrist, lives on the beach at Malibu and his wife has been mayor several times.

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  32. My condolences. Your father sounds like a great man. I always light up when I see you have a new post; while I certainly wish the subject was different today, I very much enjoyed the remembrance of your father. May many happy memories be your comfort.

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  33. What a man, your father, what a marvelous man. My condolences.
    He loved whales, animals, that tells something about him. And your fathers life and story explains why you write with such knowledge, reflection and humour.
    Swedish lady

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  34. Awesome awesome.. normally I approve of the adage "It's not how long you live, it's how you live", but 94 and living your way.... that wins both categories.
    My condolences on your loss and congratulations on being raised by a good father. I've got one too, but they're coming fewer and farther between!

    - reader #1482

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  35. In Nomine Patrii et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Requiescat In Pace.

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  36. In Nomine Patrii et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Requiescat In Pace.

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  37. Let me add my condolences to the many others here. Sounds like he and I would have gotten along real well (minus the cigars :) ).

    Your stories show that he had a remarkable understanding of the world (something sorely lacking in almost all politicians :( ), and some particularly rare prescience.

    Wish I could have heard some of your and his conversations about Trump. Did he every say "I told you so?" :)

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  38. That's quite a tribute to your father. It can be tough to attempt to summarize the life of one who was the cause of your own arising. But you've made your father alive to those of us who never knew him. As others have said, I think this post of yours could make an excellent eulogy for your dad. My condolences to you and your family.

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  39. Your Father sounds like a wonderful man, a caring and loving Father. In a short few minutes as I read this I became a life long friend of him. My sincere condolences to you and your family on the loss of dear, dear man.

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  40. Sorry to hear of your loss. Your Father sounds like quite the guy.

    Sincerely,

    Ron

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  41. A life well done.

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  42. Thanks for sharing this - what am amazing man, and we could use many more like him! My condolences.

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  43. My condolences, Lewis. Your dad was a real man, in the classic sense of the phrase. I wish we had more like him in this insane world we live in. Have a fine Alec Bradley cigar and a cognac in his memory...

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  44. What a moving memorial. Thank you for sharing. And condolences to you and your family.

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  45. He sounds like a wonderful man.

    Re Israel as a country of New Yorkers....I've never been there, but someone I know who has been there many times calls the Israelis "Jewish Rednecks"...which she means as a high compliment.

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  46. Tom Williams, Jr.May 23, 2018 at 12:13 PM

    My condolences and understanding. My mother died holding my hand on the 11th. Your father sounds like a man I would have loved to have met and talked with. I'm sure God had a need for someone who was as solidly rooted in reality.

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  47. My condolences on your loss. What a great story, though, and I don't think you could ask for more than that!

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  48. Lewis, my deepest sympathies to you and your entire family. He sounds like a truly wonderful man, and the entire world will feel the loss of such. A couple of years ago, I started dismissing the dominant idiots of the day as "Damned Communists".
    One must reach a certain age to issue such a declaration. I am very glad that your father and I made it that far.


    Michael Adams

    PS A very well written obituary or eulogy. Little if any improvement would be possible.

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  49. I've been to far too many funerals.

    The worst are mournings of a death. The best are celebrations of a life.

    You already know what to say. You just typed it. You just celebrated.

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  50. Thanks for this article, it is pretty much the perfect eulogy speech in itself

    Related words from Hunter S. Thompson:

    “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow what a ride!”

    You have a loss to mourn, but a LIFE to celebrate.

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  51. So sorry for your loss. He sounds like an amazing man. God's comfort to you and your family at this time.

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  52. " I was unbearable--a trait I have nurtured. At least, however, I didn't smoke cigars or swill cognac, well, not in class."No higher praise of a person than to emulate him.
    When I finished your Post, All I could say was "Holy S***", then I wiped tears from my eyes. I don't know you, or your father, but I sure am glad he existed and had you as a son. Wow. Thank You for this short celebration of his life.

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  53. Your Dad sounds like quite the guy. I would have liked to have met him, I think I would have liked him. He sure raised a son well.

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  54. My condolences on your loss. He sounds like he was a very wise man, and we need more like him. I think I can speak for all of us here in being glad he helped raise you in the same mold.

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  55. Thank you Mr. Amselem. The both of you.

    JK

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  56. My deepest condolences. While 94 seems like a long run, and it is clear your comments are very much the celebration of a remarkable man, the loss of a parent is always a heavy blow.

    God's comfort to you and yours.

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  57. My condolences.
    Dushan

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  58. My deepest condolences. I wish I'd known your father, you make him sound like just the sort of cantankerous guy we need.

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  59. As said many times, your words in this column are the PERFECT eulogy. Wish I coulda met your father. He sounds like a wonderful man. May God comfort you and yours...

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  60. Just read this article. My condolences. js

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  61. I recall scattering the ashes of my father in the waters along side a nature sanctuary in Maine. I watched the sparkles rise up from the water and thought "what an unusual person has just left the planet."
    It seems you have some of the same feelings.
    I wish you well and know that your eulogy will be just fine if this dress rehearsal is any indicator.
    Best regards,
    Babs

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  62. So very sorry for your loss. It sounds like your father was a wonderful human being. As are you.

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  63. There is nothing anyone can say, save that he sounds like a great man, who will be long and sorely missed by a loving family.

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  64. Tears and a smile. Your Dad was a real mensch. Thank you.

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  65. I am very sorry for your loss. Your father sounds like a gentleman I would have liked and very much enjoyed a conversation with.

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  66. So sorry for your loss. May your wonderful memories comfort you.

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  67. המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

    He sounds like he was a hell of a man. That was the highest compliment my father would have paid to someone.

    My sincere condolences. Your family lost a good father, and it sounds like the rest of the world most an impressive man.

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  68. Sounds like an amazing guy, there aren't enough of them. My condolences.

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  69. Sir:

    I just read your father's obituary. My condolences on your loss, and my thanks to you for sharing such an exemplary life w your readership. May you and your family be comforted in your loss.

    ca
    wrsa

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  70. what an amazing tribute. My Dad just met your Dad at the gates..and they are having a good laugh..so alike..lived until 96, ate what he liked. smokeed cigars,said what ever he liked,conservative to the core..hated Communists..no cognac but unsweetened grapefruit juice with JTS Brown whiskey..the thought makes my stomach churn..didn't bother his however. RIP, Dad's...

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  71. Wow! What a Dude. Congratulations to you both. It remains, in you, where he left it.

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  72. He sounds like a great dad. So sorry for your loss.

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  73. Mr. Anselem,

    Thank you for this description. Your father was obviously a truly fine man and a much better American than many who were lucky enough to be born here. I admire the fact that he was wise enough to not raise you as if you were wealthy, and I'm awed that he was perspicacious enough to see a future president in Donald Trump as far back as 2004. You have my most sincere sympathy for your loss, but I envy you the many years of close association with such a remarkable man. I have no doubt he was very proud of the man you have become.

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