My Father: Gone 50 Years.

parentsMy father, Paul Strum, shown here in a photo with my mother at my bar mitzvah in 1965, passed away 50 years ago on December 18, 1967. He was 44 in this photo and 46 when he died. He had a heart attack and died within an hour. At the time I was 15, my younger sister, Laurie, was 12, my older sister, Barbara (who passed away last year) was turning 18, and my mom was 44.

I am not proud to say that in my shock of that day my thoughts related to myself. What will happen to me? Where will we live? Will I be able to go to college? Will we have to move? The fact that my mom was just 44 with 3 children at home and no husband should have been paramount in my mind in retrospect. She did a great job in holding us together. More about her in a future Struming.

My dad was a good man. He was born in 1921, grew up in New York City and his family was poor. My grandfather sold vegetables during the Depression to make a really modest living. My dad went into the Army during World War II, but was not deployed overseas. He served stateside down south and was a cook. His friend, Abe Silpe, introduced him to his sister, Pauline, and they married after the war in 1946.

During the war my dad was diagnosed as a type 1, insulin dependent, diabetic. Diabetes is a serious widespread ailment today, but more treatable now. But it was clearly an ailment that dramatically reduced your life expectancy years ago. I remember my dad refrigerating his insulin and taking a shot each morning with an automatic syringe. As a child I had hoped that I would not become a diabetic (Alas I am a type 2 diabetic, though well controlled).

In retrospect, where we are all wise, I more clearly understand that during his life my dad was not well. While he was only 46 when he died, his eyesight was already deteriorating and circulation was poor. But he worked hard and was a good provider for our family. He had gotten his Bachelor’s degree through the GI bill and went to school at nights for 8 years. He graduated from Rutgers-Newark in 1956 when he was 34, worked for the government and with his accounting degree, became an auditor for the IRS.

I remember that on Dec 18, 1967 I left for high school early. My dad then had a heart attack at home later that morning. I was picked up at school early by an aunt who said my dad was sick. She wouldn’t tell me what was going on and the short one-mile ride home seemed endless. When we got home I found out my dad had passed away that morning. Funerals and burials are done quickly in the Jewish religion, and he was buried the following day on December 19. It was such a blur.

We are all human and have pain in our lives. No one is spared, and we are all a product of the events of our lives. Though I did not feel the weight of the world on my shoulders after he died, I did feel more responsible for my own life and success (or failure). With the love and support of my mother (who died in 1996 at age 72) and my sisters, we were all OK. We remained in our home in Springfield, NJ and I graduated high school in 1970. I went to Rutgers in New Brunswick, and my college education was thankfully paid for by the Veterans Administration. Since my dad was diagnosed with diabetes while in the service, the VA provided $2000 annually for the college education for each of his children. The cost of Rutgers at the time was $2000 annually–full-up for tuition, room and board. It was an easy choice (in truth my only one—private school was not realistic). After Rutgers, I did go to NYU to get an MBA, financed in part by a scholarship from United Airlines, some money from my mom, and money I made substitute teaching in 3 junior highs in Newark, NJ (where they paid $37/day, twice as much as the surrounding suburban towns).

As a result of my dad’s premature passing, I also feel far more compassion and I identify with anyone whose parent died while they were young. I understand the pain they suffered, and probably still do. I know that they too are also, to some extent, a product of the premature passing of their parent.

I am an independent sort by nature, but losing a parent made me feel more so. I never really sought a “safety net” in life, and never had one. I never really thought about it. I was OK with depending on myself–always was and have been. That doesn’t imply I am “self-made” in any way. No one is. My mother surely helped me in any way should could, but as I entered the working world, I understood it was up to me. I had mentors during my career, and friends and family who help me even to this day. While I have been a business leader earlier in my career and proud of my business accomplishments, I am very comfortable with a nomadic life of an independent consultant for the past 18 years. More importantly, I am proud of the role I have played in my family as husband, dad, and brother. I am far from perfect, but I think I’ve done ok in many of the facets of my life.

The world my dad left in 1967 is nothing like today’s. In 1967:

1. Lyndon Johnson was President

2. Mickey Mantle was still paying for the Yankees

3. The Beatles were still a band

4. Most people did not have color TV. We had a big black & white TV in Mediterranean cabinetry. 3 Networks—channels 2, 4, 7 in NY–3 independent channels–5,9,11–and Channel 13, PBS.

5. There were no cell phones, PCs, internet.

6. And I was a jerky 15-year old (now I am a jerky 65-year old)

My dad was soft spoken, much more so than I am. When he spoke, you listened. He was wise and hard working. He was a good dad, son, brother, and husband. I wish I had a longer relationship with him. I was too young and self-absorbed, as most teens are, when he passed away. I wish I had an adult relationship with my father. I had always felt it unfair that he died so young, but over time have become at peace with the reality that he would have been gone by now regardless.

I do think of him often, but obviously especially today. I hope he would have been proud of me. I know I was proud of him. My only advice to those who have aging parents is to appreciate them while they are here. If your relationship is strained, try to repair it, because parents are not forever.

More Strumings


  1. Lonny,

    Thank you for this very touching tribute to your Dad (and Mom). I am sure he would very proud of what you have become and accomplished. Your thoughts underscore the importance of fathers in the lives of their children, something that need reinforcing and rebuilding today. That’s why I started Fathers & Families, a non-profit that tries to build awareness of good fathers.

    Thanks again and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.


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