This story is for those people who don’t always have the best relationships in families, especially fathers.
Marshall Strauss was ten years of age when the man he called “Dad” passed away after a long illness. His mother came home from the hospital, sobbing, telling of what a good man William Strauss had been. Later that afternoon, she composed herself and called her son over to have a serious talk.
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
“I have something to tell you. The man who died this morning loved you and wanted the best for you. But…he wasn’t really your father.”
Marshall was stunned. “Wha…what do you mean?”
“He adopted you when you were two years old, that’s why your name is Strauss. Your real father’s name was Arthur Frank.”
Many thoughts swirled through the boy’s mind, most of all, why he was never told the truth before. “Do you mean my name is really Marshall Frank?”
“Yes, honey. We wanted for you to not have any confusion, so that we all had the same name. We didn’t think it was necessary to tell you.”
“But I want to know. I want to know more. Who was my real father? Where is he? What did he do?”
She peered at the boy a few silent minutes, then, “Okay. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” Three minutes passed and his mother returned with a large photo album, filled with black and white snapshots, plus a myriad of newspaper clippings. “He died, honey. In 1941, in a hospital. Then I met Willie Strauss, and we were married. He wanted to adopt you, so we agreed.”
“What’s in that big book?”
“Pictures, honey. Pictures of your father…and some of me performing with him.”
The boy still could not get over the revelation. It was as though his entire identity had been altered in a matter of minutes. “What did he do? What was he like?”
“He was a vaudeville comedian and dancer. A big star in the 1920s and 30s. He performed with top billing at the Palace Theater in New York, and many other places, portraying himself as an old Civil War veteran. He could dance with rubber legs. He had audiences screaming with laughter.”
She opened the pages, and there he was, pictures of a handsome young Art Frank posing for the camera, then another while performing on stage, with old man, grey-beard make-up and costume, the Civil War veteran. The boy was fascinated. But there were so many more questions.
“How come he died? Do I have any aunts and uncles, or grandparents?”
“I’ll tell you everything in good time. Meanwhile, look here, a picture of your father with Ginger Rogers in 1929. Here’s one with Milton Berle when he was very young. George Burns and Gracie Allen. And, Rudy Vallee.”
She laughed. “He was a crooner. But your father was among the biggest of stars.”
And so, young Marshall Strauss embarked on a mission to know his father as best he could, and to know himself as well. He wished he could talk to him, hear his voice, feel his love and laugh, and laugh again. Alas, that would never come to be.
Often, Marshall would listen to friends complain about their fathers. “Too fussy — Too aloof — Drinks too much — Too strict — Never satisfied.
“Don’t complain,” Marshall often responded. “At least you knew your father.”
Marshall Strauss took back his legal birth name and became Marshall Frank. He organized all the pictures plus an array of old 16 mm home movie films of famous people from the old days. Each year he thought about Art Frank’s birthday, special holidays, or what it would be like to give him a Father’s Day card and call him “Dad.” Wouldn’t that be great. After all, he knew he would have been a loving father and a powerful force in his life.
Marshall Frank still keeps his memory alive and somehow and lets his real dad know how much he loved and missed him these last eight decades. And…through the magic of cyberspace, he can acknowledge him as a “real” father uttering those magic words.
Happy Father’s Day – Dad.