August 15th 2014 : Steven C. Appelbaum lost his battle with cancer.
His family appreciates all of the tremendous support this community has given him through his 6 year fight.
STEVEN C. APPELBAUM : A LIFE WELL LIVED, a tribute by Marc Appelbaum
born: February 28, 1943
died: August 15, 2014
One unfortunate thing my father unintentionally taught me (and what’s even more unfortunate is that I have unwittingly passed the same down to my son), is to put off today what you can do tomorrow…so with that, I of course waited till last night to start writing a eulogy that should, for all intents and purposes, have taken months, maybe even years to prepare in order to capture the full breadth of such a multi-faceted man.
However, I started thinking about what I might want to say a few days ago.
I was toying with the idea of “what is the Measure of a Man”. I thought that that would be my starting point because my Dad was a man.
A man’s man.
A lady’s man.
A man about town.
A man of mystery.
A man for all seasons.
A man with the Iron Fist.
A man with the Golden Gun. Actually his is aluminum, but…but seriously:
A man who could be counted on.
A man who could be trusted.
A man who had tremendous capacity for empathy.
A man who cared.
A man who cared a lot.
A man who cared a lot about a lot of people.
So…last night I decided to do a bit of research on the Measure of a Man.
- The Ancient Greek Philosopher Plato says “the Measure of a Man is what he does with power”. Principal…High School in the South Bronx…I thought- this is a good tip off point for discussing my Dad.
- but JK Rowling says “if you want to see the Measure of a Man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals”. Now this is a really appropriate place to start the discussion of my Dad.
- However, Ann Landers says “The Measure of a Man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” Great place to start.
Then, I read Sydney Poitier’s quote on the Measure of a Man. Poitier quotes his own father who said “The TRUE measure of a man is how well he provided for his children.”
It is here that I will start the eulogy.
And so, what I want to do is tell you about the greatest gift that my father provided for me. I think this will truly illustrate the essence of this remarkable, very special person, one of the most important people in my life: Steven Charles Appelbaum, my Dad.
The greatest gift my father gave me was to teach me how to love unconditionally.
Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations. It can be also love without conditions or a love which has no bounds and is unchanging. An example of this is a parent’s love for their child; no matter a test score, a life changing decision, an argument, or a strong belief, the amount of love that remains between this bond is seen as unchanging and unconditional.
In ethology, or the study of animal behavior, unconditional love would refer to altruism, which in turn refers to the behavior by individuals that increases the fitness of another while decreasing the fitness of the individual committing the act.
In psychology, unconditional love refers to a state of mind in which one has the goal of increasing the welfare of another, despite any evidence of benefit for oneself.
Well…these definitions certainly jive with a few of the quotes of what is the Measure of a Man. So…we seem to be coming full circle here. I think this last definition is extremely fitting. I will read it again: unconditional love refers to a state of mind in which one has the goal of increasing the welfare of another, despite any evidence of benefit for oneself.
My father as a working man
It is almost impossible for me to quickly sum up for you what my father’s career meant to him. My father was the hardest working person that I have ever met. My father cared a tremendous amount about his career and worked very hard at it.
He started his professional career in the NYC Board of Education as a Business Ed teacher, and then after years at several different teaching positions, including Drivers’ Ed, he worked his way up to Assistant Principal, then eventually the pinnacle of his career path, a High School Principal. He was super-proud to be the CEO of his company.
My Dad, like most people, got into the profession of his choice to do what that profession entails…he became a teacher to teach. A furniture maker makes furniture…until he wants to grow his business and then that furniture maker has to make the choice to continue making tables and chairs or to become a businessperson and leave the the furniture making to others while he runs his business. It’s no different in the NYC Bd. of Education, where the higher you climb the further you get from the thing it was that led you down that path in the first place. You go from being a teacher and working directly with the students to being an administrator and although your policies effect the students, you start to interact less and less with them and more and more with the administration and parents as you become a “businessperson” in that line of work.
My father, had the ambition to reach the top of his chosen career ladder, but never wanted to lose touch with what was important about being in education: having a positive effect on the students.
I could go on and on and on about what his “kids” meant to him and more so what he meant to his “kids”. He called them all “his kids”…sometimes to the dismay of my sister and I.
This was his professional passion. His kids. He literally has 50-something year-olds that continue to write to him on Father’s Day each year. They reach out to him on his birthday. They reach out to him for advice. All ages, from all different years, from all of the different schools he was involved in, from all different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities. Franklin K Lane HS, Wingate HS, Prospect Heights HS, Alfred E Smith HS, to name a few. They reach out to him to tell him about the tremendous positive impact he made in and on their lives.
I would imagine most of you here are connected to my father on Facebook so you must have seen “his kids” putting his face as their profile picture in solidarity and saying the most wonderful of things about my Dad. If you haven’t seen it, please go and take a look. That is one measure of a man.
That is also by definition the definition of unconditional love where one has the goal of increasing the welfare of another, despite any evidence of benefit for oneself. There was no benefit at all for him to take the tremendous amount of time he did; to make the impact he did. It wasn’t part of his job. The NYC Bd. of Ed. does not pay you by the amount of students you help in their personal lives. The Bd. of Ed. does not increase your pension for every kid you turn from the hard streets of NY into a positive member of society. The Bd. of Ed. doesn’t recognize the impact you make on families’ lives. They cannot possibly measure the impact my father’s positive influence has had on his kids and his kids’ kids. He has made an absolute difference in so many young people’s lives. The positive effect is immeasurable. He didn’t just have the goal of increasing the welfare of another (which is the definition of unconditional love), he succeeded in increasing the welfare of a tremendous amount of others.
The evidence of benefit for himself? There was none that I’m aware of, not in any physical sense.
My father’s work ethic and professional legacy embodies the definition of unconditional love. I know that my Dad’s legacy will continue on. It will continue on indefinitely in all of us here and in the countless “kids” he has touched along his very successful and meaningful career and beyond. The untold good he has done and the whole-hearted self-sacrifice which he gave to his work will be a monument to him, and the memory of his good works will be handed down to the next generation by those who have had the great honor of knowing him and witnessed the great good he has done.
My father as a husband
…I can only speak to this as a 46 year witness…but I must say, my parents, to me, exemplify what a happy marriage is. I don’t know too many people my age that can say they are actually happy in their marriages. I’m not sure I know many at any age. Most seem to just put up with their spouses at best as they move through their lives, but are they actually happy? I honestly can’t think of many. My mother says she had a very happy marriage. I am so thankful that my father fought hard and was fortunate enough to make it to his 50th wedding anniversary, which my parents just celebrated in the Bahamas at the end of June. 50 years married, and according to my mother, every one of them happy years. I believe I can speak for my sister in saying from what we know, we both absolutely agree.
As far as I can tell, my father loved my mother unconditionally.
My parents didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on everything:
they were extreme opposites politically;
they didn’t like the same types of vacations;
my mother (once you get to know her) is extremely sociable and wants to go out all the time, my dad who might have been a bit cranky at times, needed just a little nudge to get out the door to go socialize;
my father was a bit of a neat freak…some people might say anal, my mother on the other hand, well…in the house, let’s just say her organizational habits may have rubbed him the wrong way every so often.
The takeaway here is that they made it work. They always made it work. They taught my sister and I how to compromise, how to be fair, how to share, how to be kind and respectful to one another and to others. How to be both sympathetic and empathetic. How to be strong willed but giving.
Dr. Benjamin Spock says “…that the surest Measure of a Man is the harmony, style, joy, and dignity he creates in his marriage, and the pleasure and inspiration he provides for his spouse”. My mom was happy for 50 years. This is one measure of a man. My dad loved my mom deeply and unconditionally.
I can’t just pay tribute to my Dad without also paying tribute to another person whose daily life personifies the gift of loving unconditionally.
That person is Sheila Appelbaum, my Mom.
I could never begin to tell you all that she has done to help Dad (really through their whole lives together), but most importantly as of recent to keep him alive and hopeful, to be his true advocate since his first bout with cancer in 1995, and more pressing in the last 6 years, to fill his every day full of love and hope, even when some of those days were frightening and bleak. You will never know how much she gave. And when the rest of us were on the verge of falling apart, Mom kept it together with her unbelievable strength, and unconditional love. There aren’t enough words to describe the depth of her giving and love to Dad. I can’t look at you right now, but Thank You Mom.
My father as a friend
My Dad taught me how to be a true friend. He became a true friend to me, especially in his later years. I could talk to him about anything, and I did. I could ask for advice without fear of judgment. I could count on him to be there when I needed him most. That to me is the definition of a true friend. He did not teach me to be a friend just by being my friend. It was not something he taught me purposefully…it’s not something we ever even talked about, but I learned through his example. He has today so, so many long term friends who have known him and loved him since they met him starting when he was a kid in elementary school, High School, college, Camp Lokanda, Lindenmere, and Swago, from every job he has ever had, from his life in Staten Island through his life in Boca Raton and his work in FAU. People love to be friends with my Dad. He is a true friend. He may be hard to break into in the first place, but once you get through the tough exterior to the mushy center, you are his friend for life.
Its been said that in considering the measure of a man, you can simply count his friends.
I personally would go one or two steps further and say it’s not just the number of friends, but the number of long-term friends; the number of friends who really know who you are and still remain your friend. Additionally, I believe it’s the quality of those friends. My dad has so many long-term, true friends. He loved them unconditionally and they him. I am so glad I can count myself part of that group. That is one measure of a man.
My father as a proud grand-father
I remember when my wife was close to giving birth to my daughter, the eldest of his four grandchildren…he was not pleased at all to be on the verge of being called a Grandpa at 51 years old. I can get where he was coming from since 51 is only 5 years away for me…
But once Aliya came into the world, he was a Grandpa and he loved it. He loved her. He loved her unconditionally. He then loved Alex my son, then Jesse my nephew and Mr Sammy my other nephew. He loved them all uniquely. He had different names for each of them, he had trademark little moves he did with each of them. He was a Grandpa and he loved it. His love for them was endless and unconditional. His love and his light and his wisdom and his kindness will always be with you.
My father as a father
…well, I left the most important part, for me, for last. It’s very late at night as I write this and I just cant get through this section without falling apart. Everyone in the house is sleeping after a tough, tough week.
Let’s see if I can get through this….
My Dad was the best Dad.
He was there for everything he needed to be there for.
He was hard and he was kind.
He was tough and he was gentile.
He was always there for us. Always.
If Sydney Poitier’s father is correct in that “the TRUE measure of a man is how well he provided for his children”…then my father’s measure is immeasurable. He provided my sister and I with everything we ever needed and more.
He was proud of every one of our accomplishments both big and small.
I am so proud of him and all of his.
He provided me with the gift of unconditional love.
Not only did he give unconditional love to me but he showed me what it meant to give it to others.
To make this life matter.
His life mattered.
That is the TRUE measure of a man.