On Saturday afternoons while my peers journeyed to the arcade to play Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, I chose to wait behind for my grandfather and his shiny yellow taxi. The moment I saw the “off duty” roof light in the distance, I knew that “Pop” and I would soon be sitting side by side at Nathan’s eating hot dogs and french fries. I learned a lot on those Saturday afternoons. Now, as a psychologist 30 years later, I more fully appreciate the impact this incredibly selfless, generous, and kind man had on me and how I was the luckiest boy to have Pop as my best friend.
Through the years, Pop was always there for me, teaching me when I was not aware I was being taught, supporting me when I didn’t realize I needed it most. Despite working close to 15 hour days 6 days a week as a New York City taxi driver to provide for his family, he left wherever he was in Manhattan at 7:00 am and 3:00 pm everyday to pick me up to take me to and from my high school in Queens. Never was he not 5 minutes EARLY (except for the one time the taxi broke down . . .). Pop brightened my days, instilled optimism in my soul, and brought convenience and comfort to my daily life. But most of all, he helped sculpt my sense of who I am, what I could become, and how I see the world. I recognize each day when I rise that my life would have been very different without Pop and how he made me feel about myself and others.
As a young child of divorce, I was raised by my mother who worked tirelessly to put food on the table and in whom can be found the warmth and tenderness of her father. Pop filled what would have been a major void in my life growing up without a father. While I recognized this at some level as a child, I believe it was Pop’s companionship I most recognized years ago. I now recognize that Pop provided much more than that — and even more than value that I would internalize as self-worth. On those Saturday afternoons and rides to and from school, he imparted in me a value system that recognizes the good in people, an innocence of the world, and a desire to positively impact others, especially older adults. Over the years, Pop and I remained the closest of friends. As he aged and suffered from the loss of my dear grandmother, his one and only true love, we only became closer. I lived with him during the summers off from college and taught myself to cook so that I could cook dinner for us. I also regularly joined him to lead the “snow-bird” drive down to Florida and back up to New York so that he could spend the winter months in warmth with his sister. My favorite days were those spent talking about the simplicities of early bird dinners and Jack Benny and Ed Sullivan with Pop and his family in Boca Raton. Those were the days . . . .
I miss my Pop more than words on a page could ever convey. It was my Pop and our experiences that closely connected me to older adults and contributed to my desire to become a geriatric psychologist and improve the well-being of older adults at micro and macro levels. Pop is my enduring inspiration. He remains a part of me — not in a cliche sense of the expression — but in many of my core values and even mannerisms I recognize in myself. He will always be the source of the good I see in the world and that I try to bring to others. For this, I am eternally grateful, my Pop.