R.I.P.: Cigars, dirty jokes and marching to the beat of his own piano - FamilyEducation

R.I.P.: Cigars, dirty jokes and marching to the beat of his own piano

June 03,2008
Skaddadle
Todd Lieman
G’s dad, K-Man’s grandfather and my father-in-law passed away tonight. He lived an amazing 86-year life that was marked by experiences that the very best writers in Hollywood probably wouldn’t dare put onto paper for fear they wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Some people are right-brained or left-brained. Felix was just brained. He used the whole thing. Felix was a Renaissance Man. As an accomplished pianist, he gave annual concerts on his birthday (yes, even last year on his 85th b’day). As a nationally renowned doctor and diagnostician, he helped heal tens of thousands of patients, trained thousands of doctors and left a legacy in the medical profession. As a writer, he penned countless papers and, most recently, wrote a book about surviving a health crisis. An avid golfer, Felix carded a hole-in-one on his favorite Presidio course, and could one-putt from pretty much anywhere on any green. Then, of course, there were his passions for swimming, hot tubs, fine food & wine, books, politics, movies (without violence) and…jokes. Oh, the jokes! Perhaps, however, his most important role – besides those of husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather – will be the one he played without his knowledge: Stork.

It’s no secret that G and I thought long and hard about whether or not to have a kid. That’s natural, I guess, but after five years of discussion, we were REALLY leaning toward a life of (supposed) freedom, crazy travel, spontaneity, whims…and no kid. Still, though, something kept us from making that final decision to live kid-free. There was this percentage – albeit a small percentage – of our souls that wondered what life would be like with a kid. Then, we had an experience that changed the course of our lives forever…and for the better.

One night, we had a really nice dinner at G’s parents' house. Her dad, who was in his early 80s at the time, was particularly on his game, as he told one bad, mostly off-color joke after another. (Did you ever hear the one about the difference between oral sex and…oh, never mind…you get the idea.) As we were driving home, I asked G, “Do you have any desire to have a kid?” She confirmed that she did. And damn near simultaneously, we said, “Well, if we do have a kid, I want him/her to know his grandfather, so we should just do it.” The rest is history. K-Man is here now, in no small part because we wanted our kid to know this incredible man who would be his grandfather.

And what a time they had. K-Man lit up whenever he saw his Papa. Just as he taught me to play golf seven years ago, Felix introduced K-Man to golf. The two of them would putt golf balls together on the back lawn for hours. And, when they’d had enough golf – K-Man and Felix could be found at the piano. K would sit on his Papa’s lap and pound the keys and turn the pages on the sheet music (prematurely). It was a scene that played out on Felix’s 85th b’day concert, as K was up on stage for the first song – turning the pages. I’m not sure who was prouder – K or Felix.

For a while, once a week, Felix and I would smoke a cigar, drink some port and talk about…well, whatever he wanted to talk about. Long before T-Mobile had it’s “My Five” advertising campaign, Felix had his. In short, Felix always had four or five things he wanted to talk about. The subjects rotated, but there were some weeks when we seemed to have the exact same conversation as the week before. While it’s true that this could sometimes be a little annoying, it was classic Felix. It wasn’t malicious; it was just Felix.

But, it was also during these conversations that I learned about his life in Austria. And, it was during these conversations that I learned about his narrow escape from the Nazi invasion, or what it was like to be in college at 16 and medical school at 20. It was during these conversations that I learned about the latest medical discoveries that so excited him. And, of course, he could never stop talking about K-Man and what parent doesn’t want to hear about how cute his kid is – even if it is coming from a grandparent. So, the occasional déjà vu was well worth it.

Many afternoon cigars turned into dinners, as K-Man and G would arrive at the house. Felix loved holding court at a dinner table – at home or in a restaurant. Once he had a captive audience (and he especially loved new audience members!), he would just start lobbing one joke after another. The conversation could be about preschools, wildfires or gas mileage, and Felix would interject with, “That reminds me of a joke. Did I ever tell you the difference between...” and he was off.

The dinner table (or table at any meal for that matter) was also a great adventure, as Felix always wanted to have a clean plate. This, of course, meant that he’d offer you whatever was on his plate that he couldn’t finish, “Try this chicken, it’s delicious!” It wouldn’t matter, if you were eating the exact same thing and had eaten three whole chickens already. At some point, Felix would wear you down and you’d have no choice but to take the chicken.

He was a brilliant, kind, complicated man who lived a life filled with friends and family. He will be missed. By me. By G, her brother and sister-in-law. By G’s mom. By scores of other family and friends. And, in what probably breaks my heart the most, by K-Man, who maybe exudes more of Felix than any of us. But, as a man who loved a good party and celebrations of any kind, we must celebrate. We must celebrate a life well lived. And we must celebrate a life in K-Man that would not be if it weren’t for his Papa.

At our wedding, Felix toasted with: “I hope you live as long as you can…and can as long as you live.” Well Felix – you did both. We love you and promise to honor you…as long as we live.