What my father left me

A love of language…

The legacy of Russian for Everybody (the version for Americans): I’m always amazed when I meet people who studied Russian in the 1970s – 1990s: without exception, they used his book, and they always exclaim, “You’re HIS daughter?!?”

…and a passion for truly awful puns

There was one about transporting gulls across state lines for immoral porpoises, and another one about the widow of Discum Tent who made Gloria thinner by a ton of pork….

Who knew this was genetic? But both I and my children delight in any kind of word play.

A love of books

No matter what pursuit I undertook, he’d enthusiastically provide an entire library to support it: Latin? How about Winnie ille Pu (yes, that’s Winnie the Pooh in Latin).

Winnie Ille Pu

Chinese? How about Swallowing Clouds?

Swallowing Clouds

Catering? Here’s a book to get you started.


I still turn to books – the real ones, not the digital version – regardless of what I want to learn more about.

A love of movies…

His favorite movie of all time was Sound of Music. (Of course, it was released the year I was born, so that makes it doubly good?)

Sound of Music

…and the details of their making

“You know, the church she is outside before her wedding is NOT the one in which she walks down the aisle….” He definitely would have cleaned up in the Sound of Music category on Jeopardy….

A love of music

I grew up hearing classical music and opera blasting from my dad’s third floor study – not exactly what my friends were used to.

He never studied Italian, but in true linguist style, he taught himself the language by reading the libretto along with the music.

In utero, my daughter would flip (literally) at the sound of opera. Her favorite at -2 months was Andrea Boccelli.


Permission to cry

Music moved him to tears – an interesting fact, given that he had no sense of rhythm and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

And he showed me that it’s okay to cry at movies – happy tears, sad tears – all good. Although my daughter has declared that I am not allowed to watch The Fault in Our Stars in the theater – “You will totally embarrass me!” Not that she didn’t go through 2 travel packs of tissues herself. Huh – also genetic?

Lessons in persistence

He couldn’t keep a beat or sing a tune, but he kept trying to teach himself to play the recorder.

He could speak multiple European and Slavic languages, but he struggled mightily with Mandarin Chinese, which he took up in his retirement. “I think it’s the tones – I’m not musical,” he’d sigh. He didn’t quit, though – he just started over from Lesson 1…again.

The importance (and difficulty) of meditation

He meditated for years but often lamented that he wasn’t very good at it – not that that kept him from trying.

It means a lot to me to have the old chair from his study, now refinished and re-upholstered, in my home office. Like him, I sit in it and try to meditate – to clear my mind of all thoughts – but today, on what would have been his 86th birthday, my mind kept wandering back to him.

Happy Birthday – you are missed.


  1. Tricia Harvey

    Thank you, Liza, for reminding me what a wonderful person your father was and how lucky I was to be one of his students. He is very much missed in the world!
    Tricia (“Pasha”)

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