Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jay Mendelsohn, 1929-2012

Below is the text of the eulogy I gave at my father's funeral on April 9, 2012. Rest in peace, Dad.

In January of this year, there was much talk in the news about a new app called “If I Die,” which allows users to save a final statement to be posted on Facebook in the event of their death. And while as far as we know, my father did not subscribe to this service, I find it very fitting that his last Facebook status, posted four days before he fell ill, reads simply, “GO GIANTS.” The only thing more fitting, of course, would be for it to have read “Let’s Go Mets,” as close to a religious mantra as my father ever had.
My father’s love of sports, and his fierce, abiding loyalty to the teams he followed, was apparent to anyone who had even the most fleeting of interactions with him. One of my favorite Dad memories of all time is of calling him one summer day many years ago. “How are you doing, Dad?” I asked. He sighed and said, “These west coast trips are killing me.” My husband Greg once innocently inquired what television shows my father liked to watch. He famously replied: “I watch two series. One is called the Mets. And one is called the Knicks.” When I was in college, my father sent me a George Will column that begins, “It has been said that baseball is to the United States what revolutions are to Latin America, a safety valve for letting off steam. I think baseball is more serious than any Latin American revolution. But then I am a serious fan.” My father had written “My sentiments exactly” at the top of the page. And I still think that of all my professional accomplishments in journalism, my father was proudest of the fact that when I was 11, I got to interview Lee Mazzilli in the Mets’ dugout for the kids’ section of the newspaper.
The seriousness of my father’s passion for the game became quite clear to me when I was 23 and went through a particularly difficult breakup. My mother would call often and talk to me at great length about what had happened and how I was doing and how I was feeling and what I needed. My unsentimental father never once felt comfortable actually discussing the specifics of the situation. Not once. Instead he called me up and told me very matter-of-factly that he had bought me a round trip ticket to Florida for spring training. Because in my Dad’s mental calculus, there was no emotional crisis that watching some Mets baseball couldn’t cure.
I bring this up not as an idle or superficial observation. I think my Dad’s love of sports, and particularly his love of baseball, spoke deeply to who he was as a person. He always believed that the lessons of baseball were those of life. Baseball is of course a game of numbers and stats, which he reveled in. It’s a cerebral game, and he was nothing if not a cerebral guy. It’s a game where smarts often trump brawn. It’s a slow, unpretentious, even laborious game, where the quick, showy payoffs take a back seat to the long, deliberate build.  And that’s who my Dad was.
Even the kind of baseball fan my father was was telling. He was a Mets fan because, he liked to tell me, the Yankees were a rich man’s team. They won too much, he always said. And that wasn’t the point. He was the kind of fan who would sometimes watch the nationally broadcast Mets games with the volume turned off so he could listen to the old school radio commentary rather than the slick network suits. He liked to sit in the upper deck nosebleed seats, the kind you used to be able to walk up and buy the day of the game, rather than expensive box seats – just the way he preferred the low rent, basic Chinese take out from the greasy spoon in the Old Bethpage shopping center to the fancy, high end stuff from Woodbury Commons, and the way he cared deeply about books and music and ideas and not at all about clothes or fancy cars or celebrities. Substance was his middle name.
My father was a man of great integrity. Perhaps more than anybody I know, he had a deeply ingrained sense of rightness, an unswerving dedication to doing what he felt was the right thing, even when it was not always easy or fun. That meant joining the Army so he could go to college where he wanted. It meant that after his dear friend Bob McGill died suddenly, my father made sure to look after Bob’s widow, Ann, who was disabled. It meant forcing all his kids to learn to play musical instruments, and in my case, logging thousands of miles and hours driving me to countless lessons and rehearsals and concerts. It meant establishing a scholarship for promising kids at his blighted junior high school in the Bronx, and later, one for students at Hofstra University, where he taught. He always did those things quietly, with no fanfare or ego. He did them simply because he felt they were the right thing to do.
And that’s just how my Dad felt about those sad sack Mets in the late 70s and early 80s, when I began to take an interest. He taught his only daughter to love that terrible team, even after we watched them lose game after game after embarrassing game. Shea Stadium was habitually so empty we used to joke that if you tipped the ushers well enough, they’d let you play third base, but he still taught me to believe in and support that team no matter what, simply because they were our team and it was the right thing to do.
And I did believe. So hard that one October evening during my freshman year of college, I watched Jesse Orosco’s hands go up over his head in triumph as the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series. The first thing I did – or actually the third, after bursting into tears and swigging some champagne – was to call my father. Because this was the stuff that families were made of.
I have my own family now. A husband with whom I am delighted my father could share his late-in-life passion for a new sport: golf. And two little boys adored by their grandfather who are growing up Orioles fans in their native Baltimore, but who already like to keep tabs on the Mets, because they know they’re “Grandpa’s team.”
My father is, sadly, now gone. No more mornings talking sports and politics with the regular crew at Town Bagel. No more New York Times crossword puzzles in pen. Or annual trips to the Langer Invitational Golf Tournament, or nights staying up late watching the Mets play those West Coast series that tired him out. But I hope he will live on in the example he set for my brothers and me, and for all of our children. He was so very proud of all of them. I can’t stop thinking about the jacket he was wearing the day he had his stroke. Folded up in the pocket was a picture of my 8-year-old niece Alexandra in her ice hockey gear; he had brought it with him that day to show his old Grumman friends over lunch.
I hope my boys share their grandfather’s deep and abiding love for baseball, and that I can spend countless summer days and nights watching and going to games with them just the way my father and I did. But more importantly, I hope they share all the qualities that fueled their grandfather’s love of baseball: his rigorous intellect. His loyalty. His fairness and steadiness. His dedication and persistence. His high standards and discipline. His ability to take pleasure in the simple things. His understanding that the right path is not always the easy one.
Thank you for all that you were, Dad. And Let’s Go Mets.

Some have asked if there is some way to honor my Dad's memory. Donations can be made to the scholarship fund he established at Hofstra University, where he taught after his retirement from Grumman, to help promising students who have had to overcome adversity.
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