My father was very fond of books. Naturally, this is a point of pride for my sister and me. Dad read to us all the time when we were children. He instilled a love of books and writing that has outlived him by decades.
He was also very fond of breasts. Large breasts.
I hold his mother – who was also large-breasted – responsible. Had Dad not been the mannerly creature he was, I’m pretty sure he’d have been one of those awful lechers who talks to cleavage rather than faces. (In my head, I can hear Dad’s voice in sermon mode: “Heaven forfend!”)
He wasn’t. So I have come to understand this bit of Dad in my own time and on my own terms. My knowledge about this particular aspect of his life is based on two very separate stories. Taken together and combined with the fact that both his mother and his wife were generously endowed, they provide pretty convincing evidence that Dad, along with all the other things he was, was a breast man.
Separate Story 1
Who breastfeeds a kid until he’s four years old? My grandmother, that’s who. By rights, my dad – a straight guy – should have been the happiest kid on Planet Earth. But because he was born in October of 1927 and as an early second birthday present, received a Stock Market Crash, that’s not exactly how things went down. The Crash didn’t affect his access to breast milk – that ended with the birth of his sister when Dad was four. But there’s no question that the triple whammy of the Great Depression, new baby and forced switch from warm to cold milk did something to my father’s head.
Perhaps because of lost access in his youth, Dad the Adult was turfy when it came to breasts. I made this discovery when I asked Mom why she hadn’t nursed us.
“Your father didn’t want me to be tied down,” she said, “and he said breastfeeding would have done that.”
Separate Story 2
In 1970, my parents took their first and only trip to Israel. Dad was a rabbi, and that year the Central Conference of American Rabbis chose Israel as the spot for its annual meeting. The group commandeered whole wings of fine hotels, and every day attendees hopped on one of the many buses lined up outside to be ferried off to various meetings and tours. There was lots of time for rabbinic arguments on any number of current and ancient topics along with gossip, the art of sizing up who was who, what was what and other networking opportunities between meetings with government dignitaries and tours of newly-reunified Jerusalem and other sites.
Among the “who” column highlights was a particular rabbinic wife. (All the women at CCAR conferences were wives prior to 1972, when Sally Preisand graduated from the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College, and started attending meetings.) Allegedly a former model, her stunning good looks were as much a topic of conversation among the men as were their animated arguments about Responsa, Talmud and congregational politics.
Naturally, everyone wanted a glimpse of this Ravishing Rebbetzin, the Reform Movement’s very own Queen Esther. And then, one lucky morning, she and her husband climbed aboard the bus on which my parents were already seated.
People turned to look without looking, uttering sotto voce variations on “There she is!!!”
Mom looked up. Dad looked up. I’m sure Mom was wondering what Dad thought about Lovely Queen Esther of the CCAR. After the briefest of glances, he turned to one of the colleagues who’d been touting her beauty.
“She’s flat-chested,” he said.
Surprise ensued as his colleagues took this new information into consideration, weighing its merits against the evidence in front of them. Would there be a rabbinic debate?
Heads began nodding in agreement as they took stock of Dad’s appraisal.
“You know,” one finally said said, “He’s right!”