Today is the 40th birthday of my firstborn. Bill (known to many as BillyBlog) was born at the Albany Medical Center in Albany, NY. I remember that when they wheeled his mother into the delivery area, the doors closed on me and I had to wait for what seemed like forever in a room filled with other nervous about-to-become-fathers. In those days, dads weren't allowed in the delivery room. For some reason buried deep in the recesses of my memory, almost from the beginning I called him Billy Bumper Crop. It really didn't make any sense when living in Albany although it may have been a bit more appropriate 5 years later when I moved to Springfield, IL, a city surrounded by corn and soybean fields. Anyway, I promise him that the term will never escape from my lips again.
When Bill was 2, his mother Diane and I separated and a year later they moved from Albany to Honolulu. Although I missed him during the "school year," I really looked forward to the summers when, in his youth, he spent 3-7 weeks with me. In some ways our father-son relationship was better than if he had grown up in the locale where I lived. Because of the distance, I was not the "dad he visited and did fun things with on the weekend and then went home exhausted and gave mom hell." When he came to visit every summer we did have lots of fun, but we also had the arguments, the discipline issues and all those other things that contribute to a full parent-child relationship. I cherish those summers in my memories although I regret not being around during the school year, or when he fell off a basketball backboard after climbing up and sitting on the rim and fractured his scull, or all those little things that went on during the months we were apart. I remember how, at the end of each summer visit, Bill would board the plane back to Hawaii, never looking back. That hurt but it would probably have been more painful if we had maintained eye contact as he walked out of my life for another 10 months.
During the Albany summers, after the move, we had many memorable experiences together. I remember specifically a drive from Detroit (my hometown) where he arrived the summer he was 4 back to Albany. For some reason, in spite of alerts as we approached each rest area on the New York State Thruway, he never had to go to the bathroom until just after we passed the entrance and had 30 miles to go until the next one. I remember the summer he learned to swim. I remember our visits to Beazy (Bea Alexander) who had been the housekeeper/day care maven from the day of his birth. As far as she was concerned Billy was just as much her child as he was ours.
The summer Billy turned 5, I moved to Springfield, IL where I lived until after his 14th birthday. He loved swimming in the pool at Monroe Gardens (my 1st residence there). He lived through my marriage to Marcia (Tiers) and my yelling at her each year on his birthday that she was giving him too many gifts and was going to spoil him rotten. (I think he's still in touch with her.) He made friends with a boy 2 doors away, Derek Reynolds, and I believe they are still periodically in touch with each other. I remember the day Billy learned to ride a bike. He had been having a terrible time; I suspect that other kids were teasing him a bit about it. One day Bill turned down an invitation to go to the State Fair (I think) with all the other kids. He said he wasn't feeling well. After they left, he went outside and was going incessantly up and down the driveway on his bike; by the time they returned he was (for him) a fine rider.
One other Springfield highlight was his nonpaying job, at age 10, as batboy for the Springfield Caps of the Central Illinois Collegiate League, which included other teams in Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Charleston-Mattoon, Macomb and Quincy. It happened that I was on the Board and even served a term as team President. He got to meet a lot of young college ball players, some of whom signed pro contracts. In a post on BillyBlog on Fathers Day he mentioned our 1977 cross-country trip which included a visit to Montana to see the Billings Mustangs, the Cincinnati Reds Pioneer League team, play. On that team was a pitcher named Bobby Morrison who not only had played for the Caps but had lived with us. Also on the Caps that year were a few players who later went on to the major leagues, including Charlie Leibrandt (pitcher for Kansas City most of his career), Kip Young who had brief pitching career with our beloved Tigers and whom we saw play in Cooperstown one summer in the Hall-of-Fame game, and Roger Erickson who survived a couple of seasons as a starting pitcher with the Twins and the Yankee. A few months ago, we located and I exchanged e-mails with the star of the Caps, Grayling Tobias who now is a school superintendent in a district not too far from St. Louis.
There were other significant moments for Billy during the Springfield years. In July, 1980 he had his Bar Mitzvah in Honolulu and I was there for the celebration along with some other family members. The earliest photos I have been able to find are from that time and they are below. First is Billy seated on the Bimah between me and his mother Diane, followed by one of him receiving the rabbinic blessing in front of the open ark.
The below photo is one of Cohen family members from the mainland who attended the Bar Mitzvah. In the front row are his paternal grandmother (my mother) Martha Cohen Max, her husband zaidi Abe Max, and Aunt Bobby Silberberg (my sister). In the rear are Jerry Cohen (my oldest brother), Steve Silberberg (Bobby's oldest son/my oldest nephew), and me.
After the Bar Mitzvah, Billy and I headed back to Springfield. Less than a month later Zaidi Abe died and I went out to Los Angeles for the funeral while Bill stayed with neighbors (the Barr Family). While in L.A. a strange and wonderful relationship sprung up between Abe's oldest granddaughter, Donna, and me. Over the next month, we became more serious (mostly over the phone) and Donna came to visit in Springfield arriving just before Billy returned to Honolulu for the school year. When I told him that Donna and I were considering getting married, he gave his approval. I think it was heavily influenced by how impressed he was that she knew as much, if not more, about baseball than he did. The following New Year's Day, Billy was my Best Man when Donna and I were married. When he got to Springfield for the summer of 1981, Bill, then a grown-up 14, took on a major responsibility. When his little sister Alicia was born, he was charged with making the phone calls to all of the relatives and he did a fine job of sharing our joy, and I think his as a new big brother. Over the years, his relationship to Alicia and younger brother Seth has been very special. Tehnically, he is only a half-brother to them, but there has never been anything halfway in the way they have gotten along over the past 26 years (24 for Seth). Below is a photo of Bill at 18, Alicia at 4 and Seth at 2.
We moved to Los Angeles in early 1982 and Bill spent his high school summers here. The year he turned 16 was a short summer for us because he spent a good part of it in Israel. When he was 17, he had what I believe was his first paying job; he was hired by the nearby Thrifty Drug Store as a "hand dip." He was one of the young people who made those famous Thrifty ice cream cones, scooping out the ice cream for which, even at that late date, the store charged a full 5 cents a scoop. Yes, Bill had one very strong arm that summer. And he also got a chance to hold an Olympic Torch that a local resident carried as it passed on Hawthorne Boulevard (a ½ block from where we lived) and later had it with him when he stopped in to Thrifty's for an ice cream cone and let the hand dips briefly come in physical contact with history. Below is a photo I found of Bill in his official work uniform:
The next summer Bill turned 17 and still did not have a driver's license. We told him that would be a major goal of the summer and I took on the pleasure/task of taking him out to drive in our 1980 Datsun (now Nissan) 300 (I think). It had a stick shift and we lived on a steep hill. Billy learned well although there were a couple of hairy moments when he would try to turn into the driveway while driving uphill. But that is a story that he can better share in detail. He did succeed and returned to Honolulu in August as a licensed driver. And that car became his when he graduated from college; I recall that he drove it until it died.
1985-89 were Bill's college years at Occidental College in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles. Friends he made there have attended all of our Passover Seders since his freshman year. His friends became family members and still are. He met Melanie at Oxy. They were married in our synagogue by our Rabbi and Cantor. Their older daughter, Jolee, was born in Pasadena. I remember the first time they visited after we "child-proofed" our house only to have them tell us they were moving to New York.
I will end this tribute to Bill's 40th birthday with what I told Donna when we learned that he and Mel had the audacity to take our 1st grandchild and move across country with her: "You raise your children to be independent, self-sufficient, responsible adults. You tell them you want them to lead their own lives. And when you are successful and they do all of that, you really get pissed-off at them." How dare they take our granddaughter and move away? How dare they do to us what we did to our parents?
Well Bill, I know that all the parents in your life were successful in your upbringing. And now, as you turn 40, I can reiterate how I feel you are one of my best friends and how much I love you! Maybe at a later date, I will recall and write about more events in both your childhood and adult years. And as I find more of the old pictures, I will either add them to this post or to later blog entries. For now, enjoy your new found maturity. And just think, 10 years from now you will be eligible for membership in AARP!