Sunday, June 15, 2014

A note to my father...

Left to right: the author, his father, Robert, his sister, Rhea, and his son, Ben.
I was raised by my father, Robert. My mother, Baila, died of cancer a few days after my 8th birthday and my sister, Rhea, six years older than I graduated from high school within a couple of years and left for college. My father taught me to cook, and to use tools to build. He taught me to love art and culture and history and beautiful things. My father taught me to love beauty. He also taught me to love science and learning and to put things to empirical test. That's because my father is a scientist.

My father is a technically a medical doctor, and actively saw patients through his professional life - but that was always on the side of his first love: research. He researched diabetes, but much of his life was dominated by researching medical methods themselves - how hospitals run and how this impacted the HMO model. He started doing this research in the 1960s with the father of the HMO concept itself: Sidney Garfield; the man who invented the concept of opt-in prepaid health care on the LA Aqueduct and Grand Coolee dam projects in the 1930s.

Robert Feldman, MD and Sidney Garfield, MD in 1972
My father brought this love of experimentation into the home and into our culinary life together. We made pickles in the refrigerator, cooked together inventions of our own. These were often amalgams of traditional Eastern European Jewish foods that my father learned from his father, Jacob. Jacob's wife, Rose had become sick and was in a hospital for years when my father was a boy. My father lived and cooked with his father - without a mother as I did.

My father married a my mother, Baila Feldman, a woman who became an artist and a painter, and they built a beautiful home in the Berkeley, CA hills. They filled it with luminous art and beautiful rugs and plants. They traveled and explored, both physically and intellectually, the cultures of the world. Later, my father and I continued this sense of aesthetics and appreciation. We had trips to France, to Italy, to Spain and Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and more. We went to cathedrals and monasteries, castles and museums. We went on the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela. Along the way we had fantastic food, wine and spirits. We ate at 3 star restaurants on occasion. At home we participated in the Berkeley born nouvelle cuisine revolution. I was taken to Alice Waters' restaurant and given a salad of baby greens and warm goat cheese while still an adolescent - a formative experience.

My father and I collected together. We purchased, loved, and shared Persian rugs, Japanese Imari porcelains, and coins. Coins and medals, numismatic lore and passionate shared study, research, investment and labor dominated years of our time. Another pathway into cultural appreciation and tangible connection with the wider world.

Thanks, Dad. You have taught me love and lust for life! On this Father's Day I raise my glass to you with the finest drams. You took the raw new make that was me and aged it lovingly in a series of well seasoned casks and made of me a spirit worth drinking.

(originally posted June 17, 2012).