My Father The Mensch

My dad, Victor Nathan, died on Christmas day. He basically just wore out after 82 very active years. His approach to life is reflected in the following George Bernard Shaw passage:

“I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no `brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Dad certainly burned bright with a natural sense of fun and adventure. He was also a genuinely good person. In the Jewish tradition, there is a special word for this. It’s called being a mensch -  someone with an honourable character who is, by their nature, a role model for others.

Qualities of a mensch

As a tribute to my dad here are six of his special qualities. They spell mensch. I hope you find it thought provoking and useful.

Moral - It’s appropriate this comes first because morality is the foundation of healthy relationships. To dad this meant being honest, admitting it when you had stuffed up and not manipulating others for selfish ends. His favourite saying was “Do the right thing”, so much so, the family wrote and performed a song about this for his 70th birthday bash.

Enterprising - Life is work and dad loved to work. On the day of his final hospital admission he had been out working as a part-time automotive insurance assessor. A few months earlier I had the privilege of driving him around to some repair shops. It was fun hearing the staff yell out with a mixture of fondness and mischief, “Hi there young Victor!” as he hobbled in with his assessment pad. He had a reputation as a tough but fair negotiator and the repairers respected him for this.

Neat - Dad was a neat guy in more ways than one. He understood how a tidy, well organised environment focuses the mind. His perfectionism drove me and my brother nuts! Everything had to be in its place. On reflection I now understand why he was one of the most productive people I have known - running a business with over 40 staff, always being there for us and the extended family, contributing to community committees and, at one stage, personally supervising the building of an entire scout hall.

Spiritual - My dad was not a religious person in the traditional sense. You could say he was a sceptical participant in the rituals of his own Jewish religion. But I know he drew great joy from the splendour of life and a feeling  that he and all things are connected by an all pervading spirit. This made him a gentle and generous person with a deep care for people, animals and the environment.

Cultured - The mark of an evolved person, or society for that matter, is not financial wealth, but an appreciation of culture. We admire our artists, architects, musicians and sportspeople because of their commitment to excellence, beauty and truth. As a youth my father was an elite athlete and later in life became an accomplished artist, giving people a lot of joy through his paintings. He also wrote my mother a poem every year on her birthday expressing his love for her, and encouraged my brother and me in our pursuits of music, fine woodworking and writing, for which I am especially grateful.

Humorous - It has been said that the defining difference between animals and humans is our ability to laugh at ourselves. There is nothing like humour to bring balance and perspective to a stressful or uncomfortable situation. Dad would regularly lighten up a room with his wisecracks. One could say he perfected the art of taking the Mickey out of himself and others. He was a child at heart right to the end, and the nurses loved looking after him.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say being a mensch like my dad, is a worthy aspiration.

Until next time,

Greg Nathan
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