My father, Harry Louis Schuman, passed away earlier this month. He was over 90 years old and in decent but declining health. Even at the end of his life as his circumstances became quite limited – no more driving, diminished mobility, many medical challenges – whenever asked how he was doing, his answer was always an enthusiastic: “Fantastic!”
All 10 grandchildren and step-grandchildren came to Chicago for the funeral, at very short notice, from near and far (including Berlin, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Normal and Chicago, IL). Family, friends, colleagues and neighbors gathered for hours (actually, we gathered for seven days, the traditional shiva period of Jewish mourning), sharing stories and remembrances.
Many useful lessons were embedded in the memories that people shared. Humbly, I offer just three that stand out from this sad but grateful time. What did people most remember about their time with my father?
- His discipline and commitment: One example: my dad attended 6:30 AM religious services every Thursday morning, often waking us kids in the dark to take us along and treating us to a chocolate donut afterwards before dropping us off at school. It was tough to get going so early in the morning, but provided a direct experience of what commitment to a community really means. True commitment means stretching outside what’s cozy and comfortable, and discipline requires it be done on a regular basis.
- His non-judgmental presence: Many folks revealed that they had confided their troubles and challenges to my dad, privately, and he never violated their confidence. They described how he listened without judging, often without giving advice, just offering his presence and support. I have vivid memories of my dad pulling me aside as a child, sensing when something important was bothering me and offering me a chance to talk it through with him without him flooding me with instructions and advice. He trusted my ability to work out my own answer.
- His goofy fun loving playfulness: My dad loved to leave extemporaneous, singing, voicemail messages that most of the grandkids still have saved on their phones. He gathered all the grandkids for an annual pilgrimage to Popeye’s chicken, in honor of the fried chicken from his Memphis hometown. No Parents Allowed. (See picture below, circa 2009 or so. Unfortunately my dad is not in this picture, but my stepmom can be seen at the end of the table.) My dad personally decorated the envelopes of birthday checks with multicolored exclamation marks and hearts — making the envelope as much a treasure as the birthday check inside.
This is just a bit of what we all heard, and learned about Harry Louis Schuman. Nothing brand new, or flashy, or even surprising. However, all of the modest, daily, steady, dependable and generous actions taken by my father throughout his lifetime added up to a mighty and far reaching inspiration, one that is alive and well in all of us who now aspire to make his example our own.