On Father’s Day – Remembering Sam Bakely, My Father

by Sheila Finkelstein on June 17, 2013

On this Father’s Day, 2013, I’m moved to post here, the “writing for healing” after my father died.  I then ultimately read it at his memorial service on March 3, 1987.

(Note: Top photo was likely taken sometime in 1941 or 1942 when I was 2 years old. The second photo was in Florida from a road trip our family of five took in 1953. I was 12 1/2.)

Dad - Sheila Age 2Dad and Me at Age 15“Beloved Family and Friends,

I feel the need to sum up my feelings and discoveries in search for understandings of me and my father.

Uncle Dave has summed up his childhood.  To an extent the Daily News, his labor years, although it did not mention that my brothers and I are products of a Ladies Garment Workers picket line where Dad fell in love with Mom when he spotted her marching while he was organizing.

As we mourn his loss today, I’d like to share with you his final years in Florida and the man described to me by his wife, Laura, and his friends of the last 10 years.


My original intent was to have Rabbi Waintrup, whom Dad was so pleased at having hired when he was on the Board at Old York Road Temple, read this.  When I got to Florida last week, Dad proudly handed me a Temple newspaper that discussed the Rabbi’s celebrating 36 years there.  How proud Dad always was of what he helped to accomplish!

But as I reflected, I realized that for me, and as my father’s daughter, I needed to deliver whatever I write myself.  My sons said, “Mom can you do with without breaking down?”  With rehearsal, I think I can.  And, actually, I guess I am now the head of the Bakely/Grubman line.  Let me help us all as we mourn and attempt to make closure today.

When I came home from Florida in December after my father’s next-to-last surgery, I kept hearing the echoes of his beloved Laura, her sister and brother-in-law, Ada and Bernie, and his friends and neighbors.  They kept speaking of Sam, their “gentle warm, caring and wonderful friend.”

“Who is this ‘Little Boy/Man?”, I recall I thought.  “How did he get here?  What did I miss?  What did I gain?  What remains the same?  If he liked you then and now, he’d go all out to do for you.  That hadn’t changed.”

Those of you who know me well, know that I have few and isolated memories of things past.  But in flitting glimpses I most often picture, probably at age 5 or 6, standing alone on the corner  of Franklin and Jefferson Streets selling poppies for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Then, in later youth, I see myself folding papers and stuffing envelopes for Democratic elections and ADA activities.  As I write, I hear the sound trucks going down the street, records singing and promoting candidates, “Don’t vote for Dewey or things will go screwy…”  and so I became his political ally.

At this point, it’s probably fitting to mention Dad’s last act before leaving for the hospital last Monday.  An hour before we were to leave, he went out to Town Hall to pick up an absentee ballot so he could be sure to cast a vote in the upcoming election.   “I want to make sure we get in a new regime,” he said.  When he returned to the apartment, he then instructed/counseled Ada [sister-in-law] on whom to vote for.

He was a man who always believed that his vote counted, that each and every vote counts, and that he could lead others to action and to have an effect.

Now that I’ve started, I could go on for hours on traits and actions.  Unfortunately for me, and him, I can’t talk about feelings in relation to him.   I cry for the fact that although I “know” that he adored me [others told me so], I never “felt” him, nor did he, me.  I could list his many organizations, many of which he led, including being treasurer and three times president of his co-op in Florida.

But it is actually about the Florida years I said I wanted to speak.  Harvey [my late brother] sums up the transition as, “He went from Steak Tartare and Beer, to Sprouts, Beets and Carrot Juice. Sunday morning big, raw, red meat hamburgers to natural foods, then only fish and vegetables.”

In his last 14 years, Dad had a chance to rest, to appreciate love, nature and friendship.  He was able to give much deserved pleasure and love to my mother, Eva, in her last years, sadly cut so short.  And then he fulfilled her last wish by remarrying.  Her deepest desire was that he continued to be taken care of.

How fortunate he was, we were, to have found Laura, who adored him, cared for him through innumerable sicknesses, surgeries, hospital stays.  To listen to this described, it sounds like he was a sickly man, but in fact he remained on his feet (so to speak) until the end–a fighter, as he had been his entire life, “a trooper” as described by one of his doctors.

This time he was fighting for his life, which he so strongly wanted and, we came to find out, he wasn’t so sure he was going to have.  How thrilled and proud he was when he turned 75 a year ago.  He often shared with my husband the fact that he never expected to live beyond his mid-50’s.

His rabbi shared that at his next-to-last surgery, he said, “Sam, you’re doing so great.”  “This was nothing,” said Dad.  “I still have the big one to face.  I know what I’m in for, and I don’t know if I’ll make it.”  “Then why do it?” asked the rabbi.  “It’s the only way,” said Dad.  “I want to live, and it’s my only chance.”

In closing, Dad loved to walk along the beach with both Mother and Laura.  It was somehow fitting to have noted yesterday that in retrospect, the day we took Dad into the hospital, when he looked so great, as if he were going on a back-to-back vacation, the ocean was calm.

Every day during the week thereafter, while Dad was fighting for life, the water was choppy and rough, although the weather was beautiful.  “How he loved to watch the weather,” stated Laura.  Yesterday, as I paid my last respects, the sea was once again calm and peaceful.

His grandsons whom he loved and adored, will fondly remember his touch and his long, introspective talks about his past/our past history.  The pre-dawn walks at the beach and the pride he helped them feel in their heritage will forever be with them.  They viewed him as a special person, as he did them.  He and his love live on through them, as well as through me and my brothers.

In a condolence conversation, his and my mother’s beloved doctor described him as a gift:
–  a gift to Laura, at a time in life when she never expected it;
–  a gift to him, the doctor, who never knew such a patient-doctor relationship;
–  the gift to my husband of me;
–  and the gift to me is that in so many good and strong ways, and weak ones too, I am
       my father!

For him, for me and for us–I thank you all for your gift of love in being here today.

Sleep in peace, dear Dad.”



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