Berger’s Burg

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Father's Day is June 12, but it is not celebrated in the same manner as Mother's Day. Since Gloria, I and countless others loved our fathers as much as our mothers, we believe Father's Day should have the same level of recognition, love and joy as Mother's Day. Although both our dads are no longer with us, the memories of both will never be forgotten.

Every year, as Father's Day approaches, we dig out and play singer Eddie Fisher's poignant 1950s RCA Victor recording "Oh, My Papa" in honor of our fathers. The lyrics of the song — from the musical "Fireworks" by Turner, Parsons and Burkhart — tenderly express our feelings for our dads:

Oh, my papa, to me he was so wonderful

Oh, my papa, to me he was so good

No one could be, so gentle and so lovable

Oh, my papa, he always understood.

Gone are the days when he would take me on his knee

And with a smile he'd change my tears to laughter

Oh, my papa, so funny, so adorable

Always the clown so funny in his way

Oh, my papa, to me he was so wonderful

Deep in my heart I miss him so today.

Why did we love our fathers so? Let's count the ways:

Alex: His name was William Berger and he arrived in the United States when he was 17. He was handsome and masculine, but poor. Papa married at 24 and had eight children, not including five who died at birth. I was No. 7. Although an accomplished tailor, he worked for the city Sanitation Department and moonlighted as a tailor.

His illiteracy did not hamper him. His gentleness, resourcefulness, sense of humor, charismatic charm and sensitivity were such that he was dubbed the "Mayor of the Lower East Side." People flocked to him simply to be in his presence.

In addition to his long workdays, he was often called upon, in the middle of the night, to administer "bonkes" (or "cupping," an old European remedy) on the bodies of the ill. He never accepted payment because "healing the sick is my payment," as he would say.

When I was 10, I told my middle-aged father that I had a fight with the janitor's 10-year-old son, Billy, because he kept calling my a "Jew boy."

Papa, always the peacemaker, had gone to the janitor's apartment to inquire about the incident. When the janitor opened the door and saw him, the much younger janitor reached for a chisel in his overalls. Before he could use it, however, Papa hit and knocked the janitor down.

Billy never called me a "Jew boy" again.

This teacher, comedian, storyteller, country doctor, dreamer and marvelous human still makes me proud he was my father. Our younger son, Vance William, is named after him.

Gloria: My father, Jack Phillip Cream, was born in Manhattan. He was the third of six children and the oldest son, responsible for the family when his father died at an early age. During the Depression, he worked three jobs to make ends meet. As a teenager, he met Anne Zetrin, who later became his wife.

Her father taught him the quilting profession and he learned to quilt the most intricate patterns, which brought him fame, but not fortune. He was "a prince in the winter," when people needed quilts, but "a pauper in the summer."

In his 30s, Dad was brought to Los Angeles to create quilts for upscale clients such as Joan Crawford, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and Ann Sothern. He began to amass a good income, but was taken from us at the age of 47.

I remember him as a devoted, loving dad who could not spend enough time with his two children. He delighted in introducing us to the opera, musical theater and history. He worked seven days a week during the winters, so our time together was limited, but it was during the summers that I recall my most cherished memories together with him.

His legacy to his children was his firm belief that a person could have any career they choose if they work hard enough. Dad made it clear, since we were young, that we would go to college and aim for any profession we wanted. He made us feel that there was nothing impossible in life and we should shoot for the stars.

Dad's generosity was legendary to family and friends, and his warmth and smile was always present, even in bleak times.

I miss his encouragement, humor and love, and I still can feel him in my heart. He lives on through our son, Jon Phillip, who was named after him.

To both of our dads: We will never forget you.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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