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Father’s Day Stories To Inspire


As Father’s Day approaches, I’m motivated to share these personal essays profiling men whose lives span over a century: my father, Chaim, my sons, Aaron and Josh, and one of our nation’s iconic public servants for children, Lawton Chiles.

I know these three personal essays ask for your time and attention.  Please bear with me. I hope you will respond with a note to  jack@4gen.org telling me what you think.

The Trials and Triumphs of a Russian Immigrant

A public well, located between two of the houses. The sketches are from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, New York, March 20, 1875.

Born on a frigid morning in February 1891 in a shtetl within the Byelo-Russia region of Eastern Europe, Chaim Tevya Levine was from his earliest years a valiant over-achiever.

The life of an impoverished family in this desolate expanse of land, dotted with scores of small villages, required making the best of bad situations. The winters were harsh, the land was under-productive, and the children were uneducated in all but the basics of survival…sprinkled with a bit of religious seasoning.

Chaim learned work ethic as a boy, helping with his father Yakov’s leather works, stitching together scraps of tanned hide cuttings to make shoe and boot components for the village shoemaker.  His parents were illiterate but he learned to read and write Yiddish and pray in Hebrew with the help of an older tutor who also led religious services on holidays. He later in life would become fluent in five languages, rooted in his hunger for understanding history and mastering business practices.

The shtetles were self-sufficient enclaves, populated in majority by Jewish families who were banned by edict of the Tsarist monarchy from living in cities. They were forced to scratch out a life of subsistence, eating root vegetables (beets, potatoes and turnips), with occasional meager portions of chicken or beef. The play Fiddler on the Roof, based on the short stories of Shalom Aleichem, tells the tale of that time, place and people. As Tevya the milkman opined in the opening scene “While it’s no sin to be poor, it’s no great blessing either.”

In 1905 the foment of revolt against the Tsarist rule of Nicholas II included an assassination attempt. A bomb was thrown at the royal sleigh in Moscow, and while no member of the royal family was injured, the Tsar turned his anger into action. By decree, he blamed the residents of the vast countryside as the guilty inciters of insurrection.

He ordered his Cossack Army to raid the villages, burn the shacks and ramshackle buildings, murder the men and boys and have license to rape and kill the women and girls. These pogroms were frequent and fierce over a period of years, forcing the terrorized shtetle residents to choose either passive acceptance of destruction and death or decide to flee in exile.

Many stayed to meet their demise, but tens of thousands packed their burlap sacks and escaped to the West. Chaim and his friend Benny, both aged 15, left for their trek through Poland to earn enough money to board a ship for America,  They arrive in November, 1908 at Ellis Island sailing in under the boldly beautiful majesty of Lady Liberty.

After learning English and working in ad jobs in various garment factories, Chaim started an embroidery business in 1914 which he owned it for some 30-years.

Whenever feasible, he attended political and was involved in many social causes including supporting labor justice civil rights movements. Among his special causes in the 1960’s such as the Freedom Riders’ quest for voter rights. His contributed were generous in celebration of his successful life overcoming poverty and brutal discrimination in his native Russia.

With no symptoms, Chaim became blind at age 55.  The doctors guessed that he suffered a cerebral stroke which robbed him of this sight. He never saw light for the rest of his life.

Five years later I was born, proving that good sight is not essential for all physical activities!

My home tasks as a child and young teenager included helping my father, reading to him and leading him in unfamiliar places. He lived to age 82 fulfilling his wish to have me become a teacher.  I realized many decades after his death that my father’s blindness was a gift to me, providing me the opportunity to hone my reading, writing and speaking skills, leading to a 40-plus year career in advocacy.

This story of this one teenaged immigrant is duplicated by the tens of millions of refugees, oppressed people from all continents, whose dream for safety and a sustaining life is one of the most compelling hallmarks of our nation and its generations of immigrant Americans. Many African-Americans, while their ancestors’ enslavement was one of the great societal crimes in our collective national history, today work diligently to gain the freedoms and share the promise of equality. This nation’s strength is in our diversity, but our power is in our unity.

A Proud Father of Two Loving Sons

Jack and his wife Charlotte with their first grandchild.

The circumstances of the day of birth for our younger son, Josh, was frightening. We almost lost him. While Charlotte’s pregnancy was full-term, the hours before delivery sparked a crisis as the baby was choking due to ingestion of meconium. Thanks to excellent medical diagnostics, an immediate and precise C-section surgical action by a skilled obstetrician, and phenomenal responses by two attending neo-natal pediatricians, Josh was saved.  The care he was given was the best available, resulting in a clean bill of health paid for by valued medical insurance.

Josh was the chubbiest newborn in the neo-natal intensive unit. His suite mates were tiny ones struggling to survive their prematurity…the beep-beeping of monitors was the background music of Josh’s first week of life.From day one, Josh was assertive. His big brother, Aaron, some three and a half years his senior, served as Josh’s mentor, his loving leader and guiding pal, but their personalities were quite different.

While Aaron was Mr. Obedience, taking long restful naps, interested in the arts and following all the rules, Josh found the excitement of testing our patience to be a hobby. He was always on target with academics, especially in math and science, but he seemed to need less sleep and channeled his energy towards the soccer field, his saxophone, and following his Dad’s passion  for the kitchen by serving as assistant chef..

Both of our guys began their work life at age 15, Aaron as a clerk at a pet store and bookstore; Josh as a busboy then waiter at a gourmet restaurant. Neither guy was a slacker, hardly ever missing school or work shifts, and always giving us the satisfaction that our parenting duties were jobs well done. Our Summertime trips were bonding opportunities, adventuresome visits to national parks, cities big and small, with special emphasis on nature, history, family and friendship reunions and local cuisine.

I share these recollections of our sons’ formative years with pride and joy as both guys are happy, healthy and valued contributors to their extended family and community.

Aaron, who lives in Portland, Oregon, taught preschool for several years where he met a colleague, Erika.  We celebrated their marriage last November. Aaron now is proud letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and Erika earned her Master of Clinical Social Work degree next week. They are heading to Italy for their honeymoon later this month. The newly-weds are a devote uncle and aunt dynamic duo to the great delight of the whole family.

Josh resides in Nova to, CA., is married to Natalie and about to celebrate his fifth Father’s Day as proud Dad to Julianne (5 1/2) and Mollie Joy (2 1/2) two beautiful, curious and delightfully adventurous girls. Natalie serves as a communications staff member for the National Parks Conservation Association and Josh is a coordinator for the Alameda County Office of Homeless Services.

Charlotte and I are thrilled to watch Josh embrace fatherhood with passion and powerful dedication to the task. We have observed that he has taken every opportunity to be an involved and playful Dad and helpmate to Natalie, keeping life balance of caring for himself so he can take good care of his family.

You can see I’m brimming with pride that Josh and Aaron embrace their roles as a Dad and Uncle with joyous and graceful exuberance.  It warms this grandfather’s heart to know his family is on the right track.


The Grandfather Governor’s Leadership

A grandfather’s pride might sound haughty, but as Lawton Chiles used to say “Tis a sorry frog who cant’s croak loud in his home pond.”

The esteemed three-term Florida U.S. Senator who was twice elected Governor was as grandfatherly a leader who ever walked our state.

Born in the Great Depression’s first year of 1930, the Lakeland native, son of a railroad conductor, became one of our most beloved public servants.

Lawton Chiles took on conventional politics by limiting campaign contributions to $10 per person (later raised to $100 in his 1990 gubernatorial run) as a symbol of his aversion to being considered bought by special interests to the detriment of “regular working folks”.

It was not just traditional partisan politics that Walkin’ Lawton scorned but his policy agenda plowed new ground in advocating for prevention of problems before they became too expensive to afford a fix.

“Investing in success is a lot smarter and cheaper than paying for failure: and “Our babies are not born Republican nor Democrat so caring for them should be neither” were two of Chiles’ favorite rallying principles.

His advocacy of prenatal and infant health care was sparked after the birth of his grandson, Lawton IV, who survived a crisis at birth weighing 1.5 pound but grew to be  healthy, musically talented, and successful.

After service as founding Chairman of the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality, in 1990 the newly-elected Governor Chiles spearheaded the creation of  Florida Healthy Start, a network of community-based coalitions which, over 30-years, has resulted in a one-third reduction in infant mortality….the best progress in this indicator of infant health in the nation.

Chiles was a champion for many preventive health causes. His abhorrence of the pervasive marketing of tobacco to teenagers led to the successful Truth Campaign which resulted in a 35-percent reduction in teen smoking.

In addition, he assembled a Dream Team of accomplished trial attorneys to sue the tobacco industry and reclaim the costs of the diseases caused by smoking.

An additional top priority of our Grandfather Governor was to create a greater emphasis of the importance of the younger years of a child’s educational future.

By expanding access to quality preschool, improving screenings for early detection of sensory and developmental challenges, and providing parental education to prevent child maltreatment through Healthy Families voluntary home visiting all became hallmarks of the Chiles Children’s agenda.  His support for organizations such as the Children’s Home Society and his advocacy for voter-approved county-based Children’s Services Councils promoted added emphasis on preventive investments..

While Governor Chiles died suddenly at age 68 just weeks before completing his second term in December 1998, many of the seeds of success he caused to be sown have proven to be fruitful over these 25-years since his passing and doubtlessly for decades to come.

My retelling the history of Lawton Chiles is motivated by my conviction that a wise leader who understands core values, eschews big money political influence and possesses the conviction to carry a reform agenda that invests resources wisely is timeless and deserves continued  bi-partisan support.

Learn more about Father’s Day here

Read more from Jack Levine here

jack levine

About the author

Jack Levine is a child and family advocate; founder, 4Generations Institute; former president, Voices For Florida’s Children, Tallahassee.

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