My Father


Leonard Zwelling

         In preparing the book I am trying to publish (and it is
looking very good, but still a lot to be done), I needed to find a picture of
my father. The book is dedicated to him, a pretty standard product of the Depression
in the Midwest–Zanesville, Ohio to be specific.

         His father was a tailor who lost a great deal in the 1929 stock
market crash and my Dad hustled in pool halls, chased women and miraculously
volunteered to serve in the US Army BEFORE Pearl Harbor. Equally miraculously,
he was chosen for Officer Candidate School and became a First Lieutenant in the
motor pool in London rather than ship out with the rest of his unit, most of
whom perished in the Battle of the Bulge. He loved London, had a ballerina for
a lover and could vividly describe the morning of June 6, 1944 when he was
awakened by the roar of a thousand planes heading over the English Channel on

         Unfortunately, he developed a duodenal ulcer in London that
would plague him the rest of his life (this was way before H. pylori and
Pepcid). He was sent home to recover from a GI’s GI bleed. He was never
discharged from the service but was a retired officer for the rest of his life.
This allowed him to shop at commissaries throughout the country. It also allowed
him to raise my sister and me as if we too had volunteered for duty in the
military. He was very strict and yes, corporal punishment from the lieutenant
was not unusual in our house.

         It was my mother who pushed me to achieve far more than my
father did, but my father has the greatest tug on me now. Those of you who
remember the way I ran clinical research administration will note the military
tones in much of what I did. It will come as no surprise that I gravitated to
the Duke medical internship where strenuous hours and clear right and wrong
were a way of life. For me, it was always that way, so why change when I
finally became a doctor?

         When my father turned 60 in 1978, my mother threw a surprise
party for him. It was indeed a surprise and I have the pictures. (It was
actually the Bar Mitzvah that he never had). I had put together a scrapbook for
my Dad on that occasion and I found it yesterday looking for the picture I
wanted to send the publisher for the book. It is one of my father in his military
dress uniform with a long Army-issued top coat, hat, gloves and mustache. He is
standing at attention outside his barracks. His pants are creased to a cutting
edge and the gold eagle on his hat and his shoes are blindingly polished. No
question what my mother saw in this guy, not to mention he was a great dancer.

         Thumbing through the book, I found the note my father wrote
me on June 14, 1960. I assume I was graduating from 6th grade for it
looks like it came from a small, grade school signature book.

         This is what it said:          

the opposition you will meet—and you will; remember truth, honesty, morality,
and compassion. But if you seek these, remember you must be content that they
are their own rewards—there may be no others.”

there it was. My entire life summed up in a few words by my own father over 50
years ago.

guess I heard him because that is precisely what I have been trying to do for
the past 20 years or so since I left the self-serving world of academic

the first 45 years of my life, I lived in the house of my mother. I gathered
prizes and awards, papers and grants and all sorts of external symbols of my
achievements and value. My mother was an orphan at 11 or so and an only child.
She never felt inwardly secure so her conveying the importance of the
accumulation of external gold stars made sense to me. Then, for some reason,
about the time I left business school in 1993, I began to pass into the house
of my father and a far more service orientation with few opportunities for
tangible rewards, although I was paid very well. Going to Washington, where the
values of my father were so clearly absent not only sent me back to Houston,
then to Legacy and then out completely, it has given me the impetus needed to
finish the book and plan two more.

thanks Dad for the advice. I think you would have loved the book and would have
roared at knowing that I have published in the Wall Street Journal and worked
in a Republican office. My Dad was a libertarian before it was fashionable so
voted Democratic in the 1950s. Then again, he was a retired Army officer when
he counseled young men how to get out of service during the Vietnam War, so
iconoclasm is surely in my blood. He thought that the FBI was tapping our
phones and they probably were. But, he never lost a boy to the draft.

just know that I really did try to take your advice and that you were really
right. Those values are their own rewards and there rarely are others for those
holding to the values. I actually did have other rewards and in that, I was
very lucky indeed.

wife. Two kids. One house. Just like you, but I am a better golfer. Though you
were a much better dancer.

Leonard Zwelling