Trying to wrap up your parent’s entire life isn’t something which is easy. There’s so much time to cover, so many aspects of who they are as people, and so many aspects of what they meant to you and their family. It’s daunting to even begin. I’ve got a eulogy coming up and what I’ll say at that is different than what I want to record overall. There’s a time and a place for everything and different ways to express what the man I love has meant to me. One thing I have the benefit of is a copy of his speech to me at my bar mitzvah when I was thirteen. I’ve got a copy attached, but want to hit on a few things which were cornerstones of his life. I know that I’m going to be challenged with tenses. He’s still with us, but the dementia which has plagued him over the course of years has done away with much of the man who raised me. However, the most important things to him have always been those cornerstones and they lived with him deeply even through his illness.
The first thing is the importance of family. In his speech, he briefly lays out the history of his grandfather, his father, himself, and what he wanted for me and my brother. His sole purpose on Earth was to ensure that the next generation could do better than the previous one. He was proud of our intelligence and our accomplishments. He wanted to give us every opportunity to excel at what we’re good at and took it as both his responsibility and ours that we succeed. He looked at my responsibility as a father in the same way. He took an amazing amount of pride in his grandchildren and their achievements. That’s not simply the pride of a parent or grandparent in their descendants, it reinforced his core tenet that each generation should be a little smarter, a little more successful, and even a little taller than the one which came before. As he’d say, “We’re Schneiders, and that’s quite a thing.”
A couple other cornerstones were being devoted to his religion and serving his community and country. I remember back to when he worked to start his synagogue’s men’s group. He truly enjoyed it and it fed some of his passions around politics, learning, and Israel. The activities I recall the clearest are when he’d bring in Ken Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Emory, to update us on current events. He also was key in settng up fundraising some activities for Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. He was a sales manager for Mattel Toys for most of his career and each year, the sales people for the toy companies would have samples they could no longer use. He arranged for a large multi-company sale at a mall with the resulting funds donated to the hospital. Lastly, he arranged for people from his synagogue to support the USO at Hartsfield airport every year and would go on his own often. He was especially active at this after the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns started and tried to work it around Christmas since we’re Jewish and wouldn’t be missing a holiday with our families. He met hundreds of soldiers as they made their ways through the world’s busiest airport.
He loved traveling in the US and abroad. He and my mother took numerous trips across the country, to Europe, and to Israel. Many of those European trips stopped at World War II battlefields given that military history was a passion of his. He loved going to Normandy and kept a vial of sand from Omaha Beach in his office. He also was very into car racing of all forms. He went to several Formula One races in Canada, the US, and Europe. In an extracurricular work activity, he secured a Trans-Am sponsorship by Mattel for a driver based out of Atlanta. The team won the championship in 1992 which was a thrill. They also raced on many of the same weekends as IndyCar and I’ve got priceless memories of going to race weekends with him at Detroit, Portland, Miami, Mid Ohio, Iowa, Atlanta, and more. At each race, we were able to get team passes which let us go just about anywhere. After the Trans-Am sponsorship, Mattel moved up to NASCAR for a while and he got an insider view of that series. Those years were some of the best I had with him and the best for him overall. It really showed how he could come up with a concept, sell its benefits, and turn it into a great time with his family.
That’s a lot about what he did and much of it says a lot of what he’d accomplished and shows some of his drive. He was always extremely into physical fitness. We had weights in the basement, a speed bag, and a punching bag. The whole family knew when he was done working in the home office when we felt the house start shaking from the rounds he put in on the bag. Whenever I was home from college, we’d always go to the gym together. Maybe it was inevitable that his mind would fall ill from dementia before his body slipped. He’d go to the gym and work out even when he could no longer remember the names of the exercises he’d do. Many of the t-shirts he wore had the Everlast logo on them which I suppose we thought he’d do – last forever.
Working out was just one aspect of what was a pretty macho personality. He loved car racing because he loved fast cars. We’re talking about a man who drove off in my mom’s wood panel station wagon and drove home in his first Corvette. Those workouts in the garage were always to Rocky music and he’d come up and tell us, “Eye of the tiger, baby! Eye of the tiger.” with sweat dripping off of him. I was talking with one of my cousins the other day and she told me that she always remembered him as being very elegant. He dressed well, was well spoken, had the Corvettes, and also loved his Rolex. He’d do a lot of it jokingly, but he was definitely image conscious. In one respect, he had a little Ric Flair in him and thought the goods made the man. I think deep down there was some insecurity to his machismo and he acted that way to project a cool image that he didn’t really need to. He was a cool guy even without the trappings. Some of this made him headstrong and overly success-oriented. Somehow this overrode many of his better aspects when dementia hit him very hard. For a time, it felt like the disease stripped away much of what we loved about him and left him an angry core which had to prove he was still who he used to be. Over time, that faded and he was left with the primary cornerstone of family. It all always came back to family.