The most honored guest at a child's table


ONE EVENING about 25 years ago, I was watching a television talk show. The host was interviewing a celebrated author. At one point the author was asked, "If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite any five people from all of history, whom would you choose?"

I thought it an intriguing question, so I posed it to my brothers and a few friends, all between 10 and 20. Their answers included the Beatles, assorted New York Yankees (past and present), Lenny Bruce, Abraham Lincoln and Sophia Loren.

I asked my father the same question. My father, an Orthodox Jew, was born in 1920 in Pultusk, Poland. After the German invasion of Poland, he and his family were transported to Auschwitz, where his parents, younger sister and countless relatives and friends perished. After the war, he moved to Paris and then to New York City, where he married my mother, raised three sons and made a living working in a factory making handbags and purses.

In response to the dinner party question, my father first chose Moses, the prophetic lawgiver, and then Maimonides, a brilliant philosopher, Talmudic scholar and medical writer of the 12th century. David Ben-Gurion (a fellow Pole and Israel's first prime minister) and Albert Einstein were his third and four choices. For his last dinner guest, my father picked his own father.

My paternal grandfather had been described to me as a "real mensch" much beloved by family and friends, and by Jews and Gentiles alike, and as a deeply religious and thoughtful man who was a voracious reader with an agile and open mind. My father probably felt that his father would have loved to discuss the nature of God, belief and prophecy with Moses and Maimonides, physics and humanism with Einstein and the creation of Israel with Ben-Gurion.

I'm sure my father wanted to bestow honor to his own father by including him on such a selective guest list, and that he likely felt that my grandfather could have held his own intellectually with these great men. But I'm also sure that the major reason he wanted his own father at the dinner table was because he dearly loved him and simply wanted to spend at least one more evening in his company.

Every year as Father's Day approaches, I am reminded of this story. I believe that no greater compliment nor honor could be paid by a child to a parent than the one my father gave his own. It is an honor that I hope my children will feel I merit someday. It is an honor my own father fully deserved.

Robert H. Deluty is associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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