Photo: The Fern Family
By Dan Fern
June 3 is my father’s birthday. Had he still been alive, we would be celebrating his 100th birthday with him. He was born on June 3rd, 1920, in Koblenz Germany. He passed away on August 26th, 2010, in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of 90.
He would tell you he lived a wonderful life; an incredible life. It was a life largely defined by a singular interval in time. It was incredible that he lived to be 90, and his story is one worth retelling. It is also worth sharing some lessons to be learned from his life that are so relevant given all the current unrest we are all witnessing and experiencing in our country today.
I share these morals as a tribute to my dad, to honor his teachings to his family and others, and to share and celebrate those principles that shaped my view of the world, and impact my life every day.
Living in Germany, as a young Jewish boy in the 1930’s was not easy. Both my father and my mother were imprisoned in Concentration Camps in the early 1940’s. My dad and his parents were sent to Lodz, Poland, and my mother and her parents were sent to Riga, Latvia. Both of my parents were the only survivors from both of their respective families. They came to the United States having lost literally everything. They met in Los Angeles, California, marrying in 1947.
My father recounted his life story as a youth many times. You can listen to him tell it firsthand at https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn511990. My dad presented regularly to junior high school and high school students as part of the Phoenix Area Agency on Aging’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) speakers bureau. My dad would tell his story of surviving the Nazi Holocaust. There was an African American gentleman who would frequently accompany him and share his stories of growing up in the segregated South. Lastly, there was a Japanese American who told his story of being imprisoned in Arizona during World War II, in a Concentration Camp for Japanese immigrants.
Their life stories, individually and collectively, were impactful. One such connection was shared in a high school art contest, where a student wrote a poem after having heard my father’s story: https://www.ocregister.com/2015/03/11/remembering-the-holocaust-through-art/.
There were several themes to their presentations. Of course, the obvious common message they all spoke of was discrimination, and how they survived and overcame prejudice, bigotry, and associated inequity that they were subject to.
My dad would always speak of his love for America and the ideals it stood for. He was so proud to say he was American. The freedom we all enjoy and take for granted. The opportunity to dream and pursue those dreams. But most of all, my dad would speak of the openness of our nation to accepting all who wished to relocate to America, because of inequities that they faced in the places where they had come from.
For most of us, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” is just a well-worn phrase from the United States’ Declaration of Independence. For my dad, and all other immigrants, it is driving force that brings them to this wonderful country.
My dad would be appalled by what is going on at this moment in time. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I know that past riots (Watts in the 60’s, and the Rodney King riots of the early 90’s) deeply troubled him, as he watched the expression of pain and despair tear apart his adopted hometown; https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-11-10-me-264-story.html
I know that what is occurring at our border, where immigrants are flocking north towards this beacon of hope, otherwise known as the United States of America, would equally outrage him that they would be turned away so cruelly, with children being torn away from their families. What if that had occurred to him?
I can honestly say that as my dad became older, he learned to forgive those that he previously hated for having stole his family and his youth. Perhaps it was his form of catharsis to witness his family grow in ways that were unimaginable to him when he arrived in America. Most immigrants come to this country in search of a better life for their children, and less so for themselves.
Lastly, when my dad passed, he left behind a legacy of love and compassion. He loved his family; he loved his country; and he felt a connection and bond with everyone and anyone he met who had immigrated to the United States of America.
I feel very fortunate to be an American, to have had the opportunities that have been presented to me, and to have known my father, as I did.
Dan Fern is the owner/managing partner of Homewatch CareGivers along with his brother, Ralph. On June 4, Homewatch CareGivers will celebrate 16 years of full-service, in-home care for people of all ages.