(My Graveside Speech at My Dad's Funeral)
I’m grateful that my father is no longer suffering and I’m grateful that I got to be with him and tell him that I love him just three days before he died. The last topic he chose to discuss with me was the need to improve science to the point where we can colonize space. He believed it possible that the sun might burn out in 500 years and colonizing space would be necessary to save the human race. He thought about these things. He was not an ordinary guy.
My father was a mensch… a really good man. He was loyal to his family and had no vices whatsoever. Through 73 years of marriage he continued to treat his wife with great affection as if his excitement for his beautiful girlfriend Elaine had never changed. Together they provided a role model of what a devoted husband and wife do for each other in sickness and in health.
He was not a religious man, too steeped in scientific method and logic to embrace faith, but strongly identified with being part of the Jewish people and cared deeply about Israel. He did his part as a member of the greatest generation and joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, graduated Officers Candidate School, learned to fly a plane and leveraged his knowledge of electronics to build a radio station in the jungles of New Guinea. At the height of the war in the Pacific, Lt. Melvin S. Cohen was on a ship on its way to the largest and most deadly invasion since D-Day. Operation Downfall was to be the invasion of the Japanese mainland and had it ensued, he would have been among the first off the boat to set up communications. But the dropping of two atomic bombs led to the Japanese surrender, Operation Downfall was cancelled and my father lived to come home and build our family.
Even with a degree from Penn State, as a Jewish engineer in the late 40’s, it was difficult for him to find work but he persevered. He loved science and technology and was way ahead of his time. He tried to convince companies to pursue everyday applications for microwave technology, but no one was interested and microwave ovens didn’t enter the mass consumer market for another 25 years. By that time he was already part of the digital revolution selling computer equipment and building a successful business around selling data communications and testing equipment. I was always impressed at how he maintained a sharp intellect and worldly curiosity throughout his life…designing sophisticated technology and getting a patent on an electronic design well into his senior years. How lucky I’ve felt to have a father with whom I could have an intellectual conversation about the issues of the day when I’m already in my 50’s. I can only hope that my mind will be functioning at the same high level as his when I’m in my 70’s and 80’s.
Although many saw him as an introverted engineering type who didn’t emote much, he was a very feeling and sentimental man who often showed how much he cared through his actions. He would tear up at funerals or even when watching touching films. When I was a young child, he noticed I was fascinated by the beauty of a small cobalt blue street light so he bought me a similarly colored night light. As a child, it upset me to see that a squirrel had chewed away the opening of the birdhouse on our garage. Dad reinforced that opening with a large metal washer that provided the birds entrée while protecting them from home invasion.
He always did his best to provide for his family, and when his business was doing well, he enjoyed being generous to us. At a moment of career crisis in my early 20’s, I decided to become a journalist. Because he had the means at that time, he put aside his “depression kid” frugality and said I should enroll at New York University to pursue this dream even though it was one of the most expensive colleges in the world. While I was there and struggling to get experience as a journalist, he would often meet me in Manhattan and encourage me. He quoted from Walter Cronkheit’s farewell address that people should buy a young reporter a drink, so he bought me a drink and a whole dinner when I needed a lift. When I got a five minute radio news show on WNYU-FM, the college station, Dad would drive up to the highest elevation in Livingston NJ so he could listen to me on his car radio. He did the same years later to hear me broadcasting for CBS News in Philadelphia. I would think about him sitting in his car listening to me when I was on the air and it meant a lot to me.
Perhaps my favorite story about my Dad is when he protected me from a threatening stranger who tried to shake me down for money. As a young teenager, I had walked a couple miles to a stranger’s house to buy a bootleg live album of the Rolling Stones. This big long-haired stranger later called me and said he realized he had undercharged me, and after a tense back and forth, said that he was coming to our house now to collect more money from me and hung up. I didn’t want to tell Dad about what I was spending my allowance on, but now I was scared.
So he listened quietly as I told him what was happening and he calmly said “Let me handle it.” The stranger actually had the chutzpah to come to our door and Dad put him in his place. He said “Listen to me. I’ve been in sales for 40 years, and I can tell you that when a seller names a price and a buyer agrees to that price, the transaction is over and cannot be changed. And to attempt to change a price after the buyer has paid for and received the merchandise is ridiculous! Now I want you to get the hell out of here and if you ever go near my son or my house again, I’m going to have the police arrest you for attempting to extort a minor.” He slammed the door and the stranger he had schooled scuttled away, never to be seen again. I said, “Dad, YOU were GREAT! Thank you so much!” He replied “You’re welcome… Now—Stop wasting money on crap!!!”
So in closing, I just want to reiterate…Dad you WERE great. You protected me and supported me when I needed you and I’ll always love you and honor your memory.