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The Unbounded Generosity of Parental Love, From Winnipeg to Hollywood

Dropping off clothes at a thrift shop, I remembered my mother shoving a wood block into my father’s old socks to save them by darning the holes, guilty that my life has been so much easier and more privileged.

Dropping off clothes at a thrift shop, I remembered my mother shoving a wood block into my father’s old socks to save them by darning the holes, guilty that my life has been so much easier and more privileged.

My parents struggled, scrimped and sacrificed to provide for their three children, whose torn socks were tossed. Russian-born, they met and married in Winnipeg, where it could drop to 50 below (from 40), and there were not yet puffy jackets. Though preparing every meal we ate and the only one caring for the house and their kids, my mother never complained.

I’ve had the luxury of hiring help and could afford to eat in restaurants. Adding another layer of angst was that I got to work in the entertainment industry, which my father would have loved. While the retail dress shop he owned put food in our mouths, he fed his soul by producing live shows starring performers from New York’s Yiddish theater.

At the age of 7, I was surprised to be told to get in the car. “Where are we going?” I asked. “The States,” my mother answered. “Your brothers will have better opportunities there,” she explained, not yet affected by the feminist movement.

Too young to consider how traumatic this must have been for my parents, I was trying to fit in, which required saying “fries,” not “chips,” “zee.” not “zed,” and memorizing The Star Spangled Banner.

Despite having no background in it, my father opened a supermarket that grew to 11 stores. Some years after his sons graduated from Harvard Law School, my father’s business went bankrupt. Hiding their panic, my parents moved to Los Angeles, where one of my brothers and I were then living, he negotiating movie deals, and me having moved there for a secretarial job he’d arranged that paid twice what I has been learning.

My mother and father settled into an apartment near my brother. His wife’s disregard for the truth would have made her a good tabloid headline writer. I didn’t know what to believe when she said my father was getting tipped for returning shopping carts to a local grocery store. I was relieved hearing him announce that he’d rented space in the downtown Central Market and would be selling bread.

One day, my boss, a comedy icon, returned from lunch and told me he’d been nearby and wanted to visit my father. “You have no idea what it’s like,” he laughed, “being Carl Reiner and going around asking people where the day old bread is.”

After five blissful years with Carl, I wrote a spec script, surprised that it led to my getting hired to do episodes of hit sit-coms. Concerned that I’d left my secretarial job and no longer had a weekly salary, my mother pressed a $5 bill into my hand. “What’s this for?” I asked.

“Buy yourself something,” she winked. My parents were proud, coming to tapings of shows I’d written and beaming each time the studio audience laughed.

Unable to afford a billboard, they told everyone individually when I was nominated for an Emmy. But I was afraid for them to know what we were paid, worried they might resent how long my father had to work to get what we did for a half hour script.

Nobody – and this includes Siri – knows who said “A parent is only a happy as their least happy child.”

Nobody – and this includes Siri – knows who said, “A parent is only as happy as their least happy child.” It wasn’t until I had the experience that I understood the unbounded generosity of parental love and realized they would have been thrilled by what I was earning. Money was not my priority, but I took pleasure in being in a position to treat my son to luxuries I’d never had. I made sure he knew that giving to him was also a gift for me. It’s one of many conversations I wish I’d had with my parents.

Despite spending their later years in Los Angeles, my parents had no reason to think they’d end up with Al Jolson, Milton Berle, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor. My father’s day old bread stand didn’t attract celebrities, but they were all brought together at Hillside Memorial Park, a cemetery you pass on the San Diego Freeway not far from LAX. Being here was the closest my father came to realizing his dream, though I like to think that my career gave him some amount of satisfaction. And my mother was finally in a place where someone else was handling the perpetual care.

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