It being Father’s Day today, Nol and my thoughts have been about Dad for a while. Nol and I wrote this together as part obituary, part remembrance, part therapy.
Our father, Alan Honig, passed away on December 20th, 2002. Adam Honig Dot Com wasn’t up and running back then, so no official obituary was published at the time.
Dad was 60 when he died from complications resulting from cancer which he had been battling on and off for about ten years. Though he was a strong fighter through the whole ordeal, he was fortunate to feel no particular pain as a result of his illness. Sometimes it freaked him out how sick he was since he felt no effects of it whatsoever. Only from the treatment.
It’s hard not to think of parties and having fun when one thinks of Dad. He’s the one who taught me the golden rule of dinner parties: don’t serve dinner until everyone is at least half in the bag. He and my Mom would throw massive, elaborate surprise parties for each other that would sometimes feature parades, crazy costumes and certainly long nights.
Dad loved to go fishing. It’s not clear to me how a Jewish boy from the Bronx develops this sort of love, but he sure had it. Nol and I grew up in Huntington Bay, Long Island and Dad had a boat that he couldn’t wait to take out on the Long Island Sound each weekend and fish.
As adults, when Dad was just recovering from cancer, we took him down to North Carolina for a deep sea fishing expedition. He had a fantastic time. We spent half the time nauseous in the tiny cabin below deck.
Alan could be very opinionated… unlike the rest of us. He demanded excellence and top grades, and loved to discuss metaphysics, religion or politics. He speciality was picking the opposite side of the argument. I once heard him argue extremely passionately for both the Israeli and Palestinian causes at one party — with two different people. I believe this was at a Seder, at someone else’s house.
Dad was very verbal — all sorts of word play, anagrams, puns, scrabble, crossword puzzles — came very easy to him, and our dinner table was a constant barrage of conversation. Some of which was positive and encouraging. His wit and sense of comic timing was impeccable, but at the same time he could devastate you with one off-hand comment meant to be a joke.
Dad was born to Jack and Dorothy (Dotty) Honig of the Bronx, New York and grew up on The Grand Concourse with his older brother Henry Honig. Highlights of his young life include a memorable trip down the Grand Canyon on a burro, and working as a waiter at a Jewish Summer Camp in the Adirondacks. And of course fishing.
After Music and Art High School in Manhattan, he attended and graduated from Pratt Institute with a major in advertising. It was there that he met our Mom, Celia Newman, who was working there as a secretary.
The story, as I understand it, was that Celia was being pursued by quite a few men eager to marry, so Dad proposed on their third date. She must have liked his bold swagger.
Dad was an ad man through and through. He worked his entire career in advertising and growing up we’d often watch TV, talk through the program, but watch the commercials with rapt attention.
Probably Dad’s most famous television commercial was for Gillette Foamy, which dared to ask the question “was Gillette Foamy think and rich enough to stop this speeding roller coaster?” Previous Gillette Foamy commercials featured men shaving, but this series of spots broke new ground and ultimately won a CLIO award, the academy award of advertising:
(If the video of the commercial isn’t displaying, you can find it here.)
Other notable achievement of his career include “inventing” the lymon for Sprite, launching Febreze, and creating award winning commercials for Harrison Goldin’s successful run for New York’s Comptroller.
Dad would have turned 71 about ten days ago. Suddenly that doesn’t seem so old. I know a lot of men still strong and vital at that age. Dad lost a lot of his 50’s to cancer, and then died less than 6 months after his 60th birthday.
We didn’t always get along; our mutual stubbornness kept us apart. Dad had a tendency to view me — and Nol in my view — as an extension of himself, not as a person in my own right. He was great at a party, or charming a friend, or pitching a client, but one on one wasn’t his strength. I wanted him to understand me, to know me but for some reason I had trouble breaking through.
Without the cancer, without dying, it’s hard to imagine him not getting a bit more mellow in his old age. He would have loved rolling around on the floor with his grandkids, playing the childhood games that Nol and I loved to play with him. Games that Dad once explained to me would “allow you and your brother to get out your frustrations with me”.
It makes me sad to think that we weren’t close in his final years, and I regret not trying harder. I know that I learned and took away so much from him — both positive and negative. Even though I was very angry with him for a long time after his death, but having a bit more perspective now, I wish the asshole* was around with us.
Happy Father’s Day.
(*Asshole was one of Dad’s favorite words, and was very common for his friends to call each other such.)
For Nol’s take on Dad, see his post.
Sad to say, but my grandmother, Gerry Newman, passed away this afternoon, May 9th, 2012, of complications resulting from being 92. Her maiden name was Geraldine Goldfeder.
Even though Grandma, or G’ma as we called her, was in poor health for a while, it still comes as a bit of a surprise and a shock to know that she is no longer with us. I think part of my surprise comes from the fact that G’ma was sort of an eternal figure to me, having outlived both my Mom and Dad. Every year as we went to Florida, Grandma seemed a little weaker but since her 90th birthday party, G’ma and I would joke about the preparations for her 100th.
Nol and I grew up with Grandma as a very regular presence in our lives. Her husband, my Grandpa Jack, died in 1970 when I was under 3 and Nol was not even 1. G’ma suffered from depression on and off after Grandpa’s death and she moved close by to where we were living so that my folks — especially my Mom — could stay in close touch with her.
Her mandelbrodt (or “mandle bread” as we called it) looked nothing like the version in the Wikipedia entry. It was basically a big — I’m talking pound cake sized — chocolate chip cookie creation that was sliced into pieces sort of like a biscotti. We thought that was the best thing ever. I have her hand written recipe for it. Perhaps we’ll have some this weekend.
Grandma loved to cook us exotic (to us) dishes like chicken fricassee, goulash with dumplings and her famous chopped liver recipe, which came out for Yom Kippur break fast like clockwork.
During the summers, Nol and I would stay at G’ma’s apartment in Northport, LI for the weekend and see two or maybe four movies with her at the old ninety-nine cent Northport Cinema. It was a short walk from Grandma’s apartment and we would get candy and treats and have a great time. I can’t be sure, but I think we saw all of the “Herbie the Love Bug” movies there.
Did you know that Grandma met my Grandfather while trying on a pair of shoes? At least that’s the story I heard. Jack was a shoe salesman, and like some story line out of Sex and the City (the Depression-Era version anyhow), Jack charmed Grandma into going out with him after getting the sale.
Or did you know that Grandma traveled to China on one of the first western tours of China? It’s true! Hard to imagine that not long after Nixon met with Mao, and the Chinese let in tourists, there was Geraldine Newman of Northport, LI hanging out on the Great Wall.
Grandma loved to travel, and when she was 88 she took a cruise with an even older friend of the Caribbean that stopped in St. Thomas while Veronica and I were honeymooning there. Naturally, we hung out during her during her shore time. Her watch broke, and she was very impressed that Veronica surprised her with a new one when it couldn’t be fixed.
Needless to say Grandma was crazy about the kids. Her great-grand kids who called her “Grandma” from an early age. I was constantly sending her photos and cards of the kids and in her room at the hospital and nursing home she proudly displayed them.
I think G’ma moved to Century Village in West Palm Beach in the early 1990’s. From time to time as I’ve had business in Florida I would often stop in on Grandma, take her out to dinner, perhaps even subject a colleague or two to the visit.
Grandma’s depression could be pretty debilitating, but when she was happy should could be life of the party like in this photo of her with Hum, Stephen and Nol. I seem to recall at least one event where she spent most of the night dancing with Hum, much to his wife Heather’s chagrin.
Most of all, G’ma loved to play cards. She was a big gambler, often betting as much as one penny per point of bridge or canasta. When she first moved to Century Village, she had a regular card game — and a regular mahjong game.
We played endless games of canasta with G’ma and our family when Nol and I were kids. Now, if you’re not familiar with canasta, it’s a pretty complicated game. Deuces are wild, sevens or aces can be really bad or really good, threes act as sort of a multiplier, and the whole darn game is sort of about being able to “meld”.
Anyhow, here are Nol and I learning to play this 1950’s card game when we’re like 9 or 10 and G’ma seems to be making the rules up as she went along.
“Oh,” she would say, “they’ve changed the rules. Joker canastas are now allowed.”
We were never sure who owned the rules, but we spent hours playing, talking and hanging out over this crazy game.
In my mind, I think it’s very likely that G’ma is rounding up a game right now. She’s found some ladies named Edith, Pearl and Minna and she’s getting them set on the latest rules of the game.
My Mom, Celia Honig, died Sunday, January 17th, 2010. She was 65 and had been struggling with Lewy Body Syndrome* for about ten years.
Though the disease made her final years difficult for her and our family, Mom had a tremendous amount of joy and love in her life and certainly lived her life to the fullest possible. She rarely complained and always told me that she was a ‘happy person’.Celia was born in 1944 to Jack and Geraldine Newman in New York City. She grew up with her brother Harvey in Washington Heights and then later Douglaston, Queens. According to Karen Wasserman, one of her friends back then, “she was the prettiest, sweetest girl in the neighborhood.” After high school, Celia attended classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, but did not graduate.
How her eventual husband, Alan Honig, managed to date her and eventually marry her in 1964 is still a mystery. Celia and Alan moved to Long Island and had me in 1967 and Nol and 1970. For over twenty-five years, Celia lived in the Wincoma area of Huntington, Long Island. Celia and Alan loved to travel, dance and enjoy hosting and attending parties. Here they are at a one of many costume parties they enjoyed:
Celia started two entrepreneurial ventures. Her first business was arranging and selling dried flowers. Turns out that this was quite popular in the 1970’s. Many years later she would start a cosmetics business called Color Theory Concepts. Mom used her artistic background to create custom shades of lipstick for her customers. Color Theory Concepts eventually expanded to selling all forms of cosmetics, handbags and accessories at the Gizay Michaels Salon. Color Theory Concepts operated until Mom moved to Manhattan in 2003.
From her earliest days, Celia was quite artistic. Celia started studying painting and drawing in the 1970’s, first under Mary Rose Palau and later under Lorianne Kulik. Mom’s works were initially representational, focusing on still life, landscapes and portraits. Here is an example of a oil painting of peaches:
Over time her work became progressively abstract with an emphasis on color over form. Here is an example of her more advanced work:
Mom had numerous shows around Long Island and her work is in private collections in the US and abroad.
After my father’s death in late 2002, Celia realized her dream of moving back into New York City, where she lived with her dog Lucky. When she was able she took classes and enjoyed programs at the 92nd Street Y, Broadway shows and galleries around the city.
When I think of my Mom, I often think of all the things I learned from her. She taught me to drive, to enjoy David Bowie’s music and to cook. She advised me on girls — not that I listened well enough. We spent days, hours at The Metropolitan Museum, where Mom was my art history professor. We walked all over Manhattan on Sundays while Nol was rehearsing or performing with the Metropolitan Opera Company. She took me to visit Cornell University where her cousin had attended and advised me to apply early decision.
For Mom, the most fun was always sitting down and having a cup of coffee and really catching up. She was an excellent listener.
In the end, that is the most important thing I learned from her: really how to listen and connect with people. Most people seem to listen as if it is the polite thing to do before talking again. Mom listened because she really wanted to know, to truly understand where you were coming from, to connect.
Celia was always the person that you could call up and just talk to. No problem was too big or small; she had a large well of patience, and she gave wise counsel. This what I miss the most. God, it sucks to have lost her so young.
The consensus, first suggested to me by my cousin Amy, is that Celia and Alan, wherever they are right now are having a drink, probably a smoke, and getting ready to dance.
*Updated: The official autopsy report came back with a different result — Alzheimer’s. I’m not sure I believe it, as it would have to be very early onset Alzheimer’s… like from when Mom was 50.