“Well of course not. You had Dad.” This was my mother’s response years ago when I wondered, somewhat casually, why my sisters and I had never been promiscuous. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about since. I’m not sure it’s true, that it can be summed up so readily. It’s certainly not the whole picture. What is true, however, is that my sisters and I have felt an uncommon bond with our father. He was, for better or worse, our king.
His story shaped ours. My father was born in 1943, during World War Two. Both his parents had emigrated to America from Eastern Europe — my grandmother from Austria, my grandfather from Poland, as children to escape the rising antisemitism. My great grandfather had died from influenza, leaving a wife and two daughters. One had emigrated to Palestine shortly thereafter, leaving my grandfather, another son, my great uncle, my other great aunt and great grandmother. My grandfather, at 13, was sent to America in the early 1920s alone to make enough to sponsor his sisters and mother. His younger brother made it to Canada in 1927. He didn’t have the wherewithal and his mother and sister perished in Treblinka, leaving him devastated, heartbroken and unable to cope, essentially for the remainder of his life, which ended from cancer before I was born, at the age of 1969.
My father, the youngest of three boys, began his journey towards financial self-sufficiency at 10. His older brothers wanted to be wise guys. One of my uncle’s friend’s car blew up when he turned the key and my father decided, then and there, that he would not follow suit. Instead, he became what his father could not. He shoveled coal, delivered newspapers, eventually joined the army, was discharged before the start of the Vietnam War and found his way to the garment industry. He never finished seventh grade.
There is a mythology here, crafted, in part, by my mother and their enduring love, but also by my father’s actions and integrity, the way he has lived his life, his larger than life personality, his humor and self deprecation, and, more than anything, the way in which I was fathered.
He is far from perfect, as he is the first to admit. Growing up, I both worshipped and feared him. He could be impatient, dominating, quick to anger, judgmental, hyper defensive of my mother, wholly inept at housework, and has a hard time finishing a book. As he’s gotten older, he’s softened considerably, more receptive to feedback and alternate points of view. We’ve had screaming matches and many tears have been shed. And yet, his humanness has always shined through. “I’ve always wanted you to know exactly who I am, warts and all,” he has repeatedly said. He is, at his core, all instinct and heart.
Fathers, historically and normatively speaking, have been charged with securing their children’s protection, providing, and guiding one’s path. Mothers, with nurturing, caring, emotional attunement, and nourishment. In my particular case, my father was tasked with both roles.
What confused us girls, more than anything, was his overt disdain for frivolity, especially since they chose to raise us on Park Avenue in the 1980s, the very center of decadence. He was highly judgmental of what he deemed superficial. “Image,” he would say. “It’s all image.” “Don’t think that you’re better than anyone else because you’re being raised here,” both my parents would say. Any expression of elitism was promptly met with disgust. What mattered to him and my mother was the mind; they revered formal education, something my father himself never engaged in, and art. Music flowed through our home, always. Storytelling, whether through television, film or theatre, became a means of communication. My sisters and I were sent to esteemed private schools just outside of Manhattan (my brother came much later and was raised, in his later years, in Colorado) and went on to private universities. My oldest sister attended Cornell undergrad and Yale Business School, two Ivy League institutions. This was his greatest desire and he managed to fulfill it.
In his eyes, education was the doorway to the world, the possibilities endless. The great irony here is that everything he achieved, everything he lived and practiced, was accomplished without one. He built a business, employed hundreds of people (who still let my siblings know that he was the best boss they’ve ever had – again, the mythology), traveled the world, has sustained a marriage with the love of his life for over 50 years and raised the four of us, all without ever submitting himself to a classroom.
I loved school. In fact, we all did. “That’s your mother’s brain. Thank God,” he will say.
But it took me thirty some odd years to realize that the insecurity that drove his obsession with elite education was the very thing that was keeping me caged. And that his example would be the thing that set me free. What does it mean, truly, to be educated? How is it that we learn and grow, if not through actual experience, through stepping out of our comfort zone? My father may never have attended high school or college, but he is, in my experience, much wiser and intelligent than many who have.
“I always thought you’d be an actress.” My parents started taking me to the theater when I was six or seven, my mouth agape. As the third girl, I was a bit of a ham, dramatic and sensitive. I thought I’d be a lawyer, given my philosophical mind. Though my parents exposed me to the arts quite young, it never quite occurred to me that I might pursue them professionally. And yet I suppose I’ve managed to merge both perspectives in my work, blending my psychological and human perspective with that of cosmic law.
In my pursuit of love, I was, until my late 30s, drawn to men who were cerebral and insouciant, men too smart for their own good, sharp and cleverly unavailable. I would attempt to dazzle them with my knowledge, as I had tried to dazzle my father, confirming his bias that his investment was well worth the price paid. If I am bright enough, I thought, they will love me. Of course, they never did.
When one particular affair blew up in my face, it was my father who flew out to LA to comfort me. “I don’t understand. I was always there for you. You always knew you could reach me. If I was traveling, I called every night, otherwise I was home for dinner every night.”
He wasn’t wrong. But it wasn’t him I was chasing, I later realized, it was my mother. I wasn’t trying to date him, I was trying to emulate him. My courtship was surface. I saw something broken in these men that I wanted to fix.
I have never, still to this day, met someone so devoted, so responsible. “He had green teeth and a lazy eye when we met,” my mother has said, “but from the moment I met him, at 19, he was a man, committed and capable”. My mother, who liked bad boys, who was said to have had sex on her high school lawn, and had been to proposed to multiple times, had instantly found her savior. His best friend, who passed from Covid early on in the pandemic, was the other great love of his life. Sixty five years plus of speaking every day and of brotherhood. This I cannot fathom. No doubt he needs to be needed. But it still leaves me in awe.
We live in a world obsessed with image. The thing my father disdains the most has captured and propelled nearly every facet of the modern economy and I’ve struggled to find my way through it, given the sternness of his admonition.
It seems we live in a world of mini Don Drapers, each handle an advertisement. I love art, beautiful things, design, aesthetics with an almost holy reverence. I am also partnered, but unmarried and childless. I work for myself and have no employees. My life, in many ways, is antithetical to his. In truth, I have a hard time making sense of this. I wonder if I’ve failed to live a life committed enough. I seem to have a penchant for running, rather than staying.
There are many stories I love about my father, but this one may be my favorite. He had been packing boxes in his early twenties, starting to find his way through the garment industry. He had worked ridiculous hours, was exhausted to the bone and when his yearly bonus came, it was nothing more than chump change. He ripped up the check and said to himself, ‘I’ll never work for anyone again.’ And he never did.
I have, if nothing else, a piece of his gumption, self-determination and person-centered approach. Where his was predicated on survival, mine has been tethered to emotional, psychological and spiritual development. “I have no idea what you do. It’s above my pay grade,” he says, “but I am so proud of you. You are entirely your own person.”
Our dinner table was a rowdy affair. Lots of debating, open challenges. It’s what he wanted: daughters who weren’t afraid to say what they felt, who could hold their own. We were encouraged to exercise our voices, to see and experience the world and find our own way through it. He would always be there to catch us if we fell.
With the passing of his best friend, I’ve thought a lot about what this world will feel like without him in it. The grief feels insurmountable, but also like a rite of passage.
John F. Kennedy Jr. once said that you’re not really an adult until you’re orphaned and I wonder if that’s true.
“It’s a different world today, “ he’ll say, “I’m not sure I could have done what I did then, now.” In the early 90s, when the garment industry began to change, my Dad liquidated his business. Before he closed his business, he made sure his employees had jobs elsewhere, a caretaker to his core.
Throughout my life, I have been increasingly drawn to people who come from other worlds than I, those infused with grit, a connection to the land and a hearty sense of community, people from whom I can learn, people from outside the echo chamber in which I was raised. This, above all else, is my father’s influence. “Listen,” he would say, “and you’ll learn more than you ever thought you could. About people. And about the world.” I often fail miserably; I can be quite gregarious. But it remains my intention.
We are in a great sea change, the world transforming before our very eyes. I’m not sure where it will lead us. No one does. It all feels so uncertain. But it’s my father’s example, his sturdiness, resilience, humanity, humor and decency, and cautious optimism, that will, no doubt, guide me through.
Danielle Beinstein is a psychological and intuitive astrologer based between New York, Los Angeles, and New Zealand. She currently offers one-on-one sessions as well as her monthly online membership and courses program, The Cosmic Compass. You can find more on both offerings at daniellebeinstein.com, and for more regular astrological musings, make sure to follow her on Instagram.