That’s my dad and me riding bikes past the old casino in Delaware Park, Buffalo, New York, 1973. It was late March, the piles of snow melting in the background. I’m 14 years old, a high school freshman. My father is 46, married, the father of five, a rising marketing executive at a pharmaceutical company.
Today is his birthday. He would have been 95.
The photo is staged because a photographer from the local newspaper, The Courier Express (long gone), spotted us and wanted a picture for the paper. We started out on our bikes and rode toward the camera. I see wet tire marks on the pavement so this probably wasn’t our first take.
Despite the piles of snow and bare trees in the background, and the month of March in Buffalo, it must not have been too cold a day. We aren’t wearing gloves or hats. I know that’s my St. Joe’s windbreaker I’ve got on and my red Converse All-Stars. No helmets. No one wore helmets then.
This spot in Delaware Park is probably three miles from our family home. It must be a Saturday or a Sunday if I’m riding with my dad. Other weekends, in the winter, he would take us sledding on a hill behind that casino, or we’d ice skate on that frozen lake right next to us. Sometimes we went to the tennis courts in the spring and fall.
I didn’t know my father well back then. I hardly knew myself at age 14. I was awkward and unsure of myself, and we didn’t have the kind of relationship founded on personal or meaningful conversations. We never said I love you to each other. At that point, we were both incapable.
As I grew into adulthood, we got to know each other better, my father and I. He could be rigid, but also extremely kind. He had a finely-tuned moral compass. He loved to play tennis was a card shark. He was devoted to his children and their well-being, especially after my mother died in 1983, and he showed great interest in his grandchildren. He was a man of deep faith, which I am not.
Bob Klein was also a man of few words. He didn’t gossip, gab, or boast. He would do things or fix things without making a big announcement over it. He went about his business. He was from the era when it was acceptable, maybe even preferable, for a man to have his actions speak for him. Like taking a bike ride with his son.
Tomorrow, April 12, is my son’s birthday. Owen will be 22. He’s a lot more mature than I was at that age. I don’t know how much I’ve passed on to my son, but I tell him I love him all the time. I taught him to ride a bike and drive a car, just like my father taught me. He’s a young man who also has a keen moral compass. He has integrity and resilience. He respects women. He stands up for himself and others. He loves his sister and his parents and his friends. He’s an avid reader and is passionate about his beliefs.
I can’t say he’s this way because of me, but I’m forever grateful for the man he’s grown to be. He might have taught me more about being a man than I’ve taught him, and here are some of the Dad Lessons I’ve Learned.
Happy Birthday, Bob and Owen Klein.