My Father, My Mentor, My Hero
When I was growing up my dad worked as an electrician during the day, at night he attended law school, and on the weekends he worked construction. He had a strong work ethic. If he wanted something, he set his sights on it and did not stop until his goals were realized. He was a powerful force of energy – kind of like a locomotive.
After years of night school, he attained his goal and became a lawyer. And, he continued working full time until he was eighty years old. The only reason my father stopped working was because he had a stroke that forced him into immediate retirement. Actually, it wasn’t one stroke that put him out of work. It was a series of strokes, about eight or nine, in a row, that finally stopped him in his tracks. Work was important to my dad and he instilled that same ethic in me.
Sophocles said, “Without labor, nothing prospers.”
My father grew up during the great depression. He told me his family was poor. So poor, in fact, that at one point his parents didn’t have enough money to feed the family and pay the rent, too. When the landlord came knocking, they just packed up and moved to a new apartment. He said they moved about twenty times in a three-year period.
The only time we moved when I was growing up was when my dad moved us into a larger home than the one we were living in before. After that, he gave us a second home in East Marion, Long Island – a summer home. Unlike my father’s upbringing, I felt a sense of stability. We always had a roof over our heads.
During the great depression my father knew hunger. My brothers and sister, and I, never knew that feeling. My father not only provided us with food, he provided us with an ABUNDANCE of food. We had three refrigerators! One “regular” refrigerator containing everyday food, one deep freezer where we kept frozen foods and meats, and a third refrigerator filled with cases of tiramisu, chocolate layer cake, cheesecake, and of course, Grolsch, Becks and Sam Adams. He loved to relax with a cold beer after a hard day’s work.
Dad also threw a yearly superbowl party and invited 75-100 people, but he would purchase food for 200.
My brother-in-law, Lyndon, would say, “Mr. Beaman don’t get so much food. It’ll go to waste.”
“Don’t worry, people will take stuff home with them,” Dad said.
After the superbowl party, my father would get angry if you didn’t stuff your pockets with sandwiches or take a plate of something, or even an entire cheesecake, home with you. He loved being the provider.
Every year, around the holidays, I would watch him mixing egg yolks, heavy cream, and chocolate syrup, with bottles of scotch and whiskey. His homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream was strong as heck! Just like him. He would take gallons of that high-octane stuff up to the courthouse and share it with his co-workers. It made him happy to share. And, of course it made everyone at the courthouse happy because they’d get drunk on “Beaman’s brew.”
My father was filled with wit and sarcasm and he played the part of racist, anti-semite, and male chauvinist really well. As President of the he-man-woman-haters club, his annual superbowl party came with a list of rules. One was that women (or wenches, as he affectionately referred to them) were not allowed to speak during the football game unless they were asking the men if they needed another beer.
As a white supremacist he would invite his best friend, Dennis Groves, to the summer house in Long Island. Then he would tell Dennis not to hang out on the front porch too long otherwise the sight of his “black essence” would bring down the value of the neighborhood.
My mom bought my dad a sweatshirt that had the words “Super Goy” emblazoned across the front. For those of you that don’t know what a “goy” is, it’s a “non-Jew.” Apparently, playing the part of an anti-semite made all the Jewish girls want to marry him. First my mom, Mona, and then his second wife, Wendy.
When Richard and Mona first met it was taboo for a Jewish gal to date a Catholic, German man, and her family was dead set against this union. They refused to attend the wedding. My father told me that on the wedding day he phoned my mother’s parents and said, “Listen… I love your daughter and she loves me. I’m going to marry her and take care of her. I know you don’t like my German heritage or my religion, so you don’t have to show up for me, but I need you to show up for her, and support her on her day.”
I’m sure her parents sensed that he was a man of conviction, and they finally showed up. At the wedding, Richard promised Mona’s parents that he would love her for the rest of her life, and he would raise their children to know about the Jewish traditions. He kept his word. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, and Passover and Hanukah. Every year my German Catholic father placed a yamaka on top of his head and read prayers from the Torah in Hebrew.
Toward the end of my grandmother’s life she said to me, “I need to tell you something about your father.”
I didn’t know what to expect. I was a teenager at that time, and wasn’t much interested in my father.
She said, “I didn’t approve of your father when Mona brought him home. I didn’t think he was the right choice for her. But, your mother knew better. Your father was the best choice she could have ever made. He is a good man.”
I think one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given my father was on his 80th birthday. I told him what my grandmother said to me twenty-five years prior, on her deathbed. His eyes became glassy, his lips and chin tightened, and he formed a downward smile. He did this when he was feeling a tender emotion. He simply said, “I never knew she felt that way.”
My dad was an avid hiker and camper. Every year he took us camping at Fire Island or upstate New York in the Adirondack Mountains. While other kids were enjoying Disney world, riding the Magic Mountain rollercoaster and eating cotton candy, we were hiking up mountains searching for hidden ponds, crossing small streams, and getting attacked by leeches and mosquitoes. Trust me, I wanted to go to Disney with the rest of the kids, but the best place for us was out in nature and my dad knew it.
A place he particularly liked was a large reservoir dotted with many wooded and rocky islands called Indian Lake. One of the islands had a tall cliff fifteen feet above the water. My dad piled us into a metal dinghy with a six-mph engine, and took us there. He was the first one to jump off the cliff and test the safety and depth of the water. It was safe but I was too scared to jump. Fifteen feet is a big drop, especially for a scrawny seven-year old kid!
He brought me to the edge of the cliff and said, “Don’t look down.” Then he held my hand and said, “We’re going to jump in on three. One…two… three!”
And, whether I was ready or not, we jumped off the cliff. My father taught me how to take big leaps into life: don’t be afraid, just jump.
Growing up in Queens, New York, my oldest brother was frequently in trouble. One night when I was about twelve years old, I heard a ruckus on the front lawn. I opened the door and saw twenty or thirty guys carrying baseball bats, thick link chains and crowbars.
One guy told me, “Go back in the house and send Beaman, out.”
So, I went back into the house and into the kitchen, where my father was enjoying his dinner and a beer.
“Dad, I think some guys are looking for Ricky. They got bats and stuff, and there’s a lot of them.”
My father exhaled heavily, took a bite of his dinner, and a sip of beer, and headed toward the front door. He warned me to stay inside and keep the door locked. I did as I was told and then watched through the open window at the scene about to take place outside.
He stepped onto the front porch and asked what the problem was.
A big guy, covered in tattoos, wearing a leather biker vest and blue jeans ripped at the knees, holding a crowbar said, “We’re looking for Beaman.”
“I’m Beaman. What do you want?”
“We’re not looking for you old man, we’re looking for your son.”
My father walked down the steps and stood directly in front of the big guy. He was a full head taller than my father, and at least sixty pounds heavier. My dad tilted his head up and talked directly into the big guy’s face.
“If you’ve got a problem with any Beaman, you’ve got a problem with me.”
The big guy laughed, “C’mon old man. Go back inside. You can’t take us all on.”
“I’m not taking everyone on. I’m taking you on. And, when your punk friends watch me knock your lights out, they are going to run away.”
The big guy didn’t say anything. He just slightly pulled his head back and looked at my father in disbelief. My father stared back, and then made good on his threat. He took two steps away from the big guy, balled his huge hands into fists, and took a fighting stance. “You have ten seconds to get off my property.”
The big guy hesitated. He nervously looked around at his friends, and then looked back at my father.
“We got no beef with you, man.” And, then said to the other guys, “C’mon, let’s go.” They quickly disassembled. I never saw those guys again.
There were two you didn’t do to Richard Beaman; you didn’t threaten him or anyone he loved, and you didn’t interrupt his dinner.
After childhood, I myself, became an unruly teenager and grew distant from my father. I didn’t understand him at all. He had a big tough exterior and that’s all I saw. But, I discovered he was much bigger than his physical presence. When I was eighteen years old I worked as a bartender in Manhattan. One day an electrician working on a construction site up the block came in for a beer. He heard someone call me by my last name.
He looked up and said, “Beaman? By any chance, are you related to Dick Beaman?”
“Yep, that’s my dad.”
He immediately left the bar and came back with about fifteen construction workers. He pointed at me and said, “That’s Dick Beaman’s kid.” They all stared at me.
“What’s the big deal? How do you know my dad?”
And, a complete stranger told me the story about my father. He was working as an Electrician for Local 3 and going to school at night to become a lawyer. After he passed the bar exam he sued Local 3 for the rights of the electrical workers. Local 3 was infuriated because they didn’t want to dish out more money or benefits. The local 3 “henchmen” would wait for my father, wielding bats and chains. They threatened his life on a daily basis and told him to give up his fight against the union or he and his family would suffer the consequences. But, my dad was focused on his mission. And, he fought the union until they laid down their arms and gave the workers the rights they deserved. Today Local 3 has one of the best benefit packages because of my father’s steadfast determination.
Every day another electrician would come shake my hand and ask me to relay their “thanks” to my father. Some of the older guys would sit and tell me stories about my legendary dad. On the outside I listened to these stories, but on the inside, I didn’t let any of it penetrate my hardened heart. At that time in my life I hated my father. I didn’t understand him or his behavior toward me.
My mom confided in me that my father was very sensitive and it hurt him deeply that I was staying out late at night, smoking and cursing like a drunken sailor, sleeping around, and getting high on drugs. He wanted a better life for me, and thought I deserved better than what I was giving myself. But, he couldn’t express his pain about that. Instead he got angry, withdrew, and stopped speaking with me. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I got angry and stopped speaking to him, too. From the time I was sixteen until I was twenty-two years old we barely uttered one word to each other. Except maybe on Christmas, when we would say… “uhm… Merry Christmas.” And, I would walk away and mumble under my breath, “a–hole.”
It wasn’t until my mom’s battle with cancer that I began understanding my father. I remember coming home one day and watching my parents slowly walking up the block holding hands. They stopped walking, and she leaned up against him for support. Then they continued walking a few more steps and she stopped and leaned up against him again. He reached down, picked her up and carried her, the way a man would carry his wife across the marriage threshold. Then he set her down gently and they began walking again. Every few steps he would pick her up and carry her again. At one point during her illness she was down to 78 pounds, had lost all of her beautiful red curls, and was physically unable to get out of bed. My father would come home from the courthouse and go immediately to my mom and give her a kiss. He’d lean over her and say, “Hello boopsy doodle. How’s by you?” She would open her eyes and smile. Then he would poke her on her nose and say, “Have you been loafing around all day moochin’ off of me?” No matter how many times he said it, and no matter how weak she was, it always made her giggle.
It took cancer and the death of my mother for me to truly see my father from the inside out. Once I understood him, it was easy for me to love and appreciate him. It’s amazing how tragedy has a way of opening the heart.
Two weeks after mom died, my father and I were driving back to Queens from the Union Square Farmer’s market in NYC. He loved shopping at the farmer’s market every week to pick-up scones, muffins, apple cider, pies, and pear chutney for his family.
Staring straight ahead at the road, he said, “How can I take care of you kids without your mother? I can’t do this without Mona.” And, that was the second time I’ve ever seen him cry. The first time was when he buried his sweetheart. He said to me, “It wasn’t supposed to end like this. We were supposed to grow old together.”
He was right about not being able to “care” for us without my mom. He couldn’t effectively communicate and share his heartfelt emotions with his kids, especially not with his sons. He could provide food, shelter, protection and everything else we needed for our physical survival, but he couldn’t express his deep concerns about his children. He was strong on the outside, and soft on the inside.
When my dad had his stroke, about a year and a half ago, his strong physical body was not the same and it caused him a great deal of frustration and emotional pain. He never fully regained support of his left leg and walked with a limp. He was also stubborn as an ox and refused to use the cane they gave him at the rehabilitation center (picture at right), so he fell quite a few times.
The stroke caused immediate retirement for my father and he could no longer do what he loved: work, provide for, and take care of people. And, when he couldn’t physically do that, it caused him deep sadness.
There’s a great quote by Robert Byrne, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
After my dad’s stroke, I think he felt a sense of purposelessness. Over the last year and a half of his life, he was more often depressed than happy. His usual wit and sarcasm was less frequent, and his grumpiness was more often. The grandkids, and us adult kids, even started calling him Grumpa instead of Grampa. Although, not to his face because he was still pretty strong and he could have easily knocked our lights out.
On December 18th, 2011 my father was struck and killed by a truck in Long Island. And, although his death was tragic, I think he was ready for it. We, on the other hand, may not have been ready for it because it happened so suddenly. But, that’s life.
It’s obvious to me that there was some work that needed to be done in universe and God called upon the hardest working human being he knew. He said to his angels, “Go get Richard Beaman. Right now! We need him up here.” And, my father’s work on this planet was complete.
My father was my mentor and my hero. I am the person I am today because of his direct influence on my life. I am the daughter of Richard Edward Beaman. He was a man of strong character. He didn’t do anything meekly – he did everything to the tenth power. And, his big presence is greatly missed.