Clarence Sanford Goldfinger
A hundred years ago today, my father, Clarence Sanford Goldfinger, was born. It has been a little over three years since he passed. For the longest time, he would not acknowledge that he would eventually die, but slowly, in the last years of his life, he came to realize that he too was mortal. Towards the final years of his life, he suffered from dementia. It was a process that took several years and one that robbed him of his independence. Up until that time, he would drive himself to the gym six days a week and work out for three hours at a time. After his wife of 47 years, Eleanor, died in 2005, I suspect that the gym became the center of his social life.
My relationship with my father was complicated. I cover this in my book, The Flight of a Wild Duck. The reason my name changed from Goldfinger to Miller is explained there as well. Both of my parents were flawed in so many ways, but both were remarkable as well. I decided at a young age that I would take the best from them and leave the rest behind.
My parents were children themselves, my father was just 20 years old when he married my 17 year old mother in 1944. I was born a bit over nine months later. He retained his youthfulness throughout his life, a childlike quality that I have sought to emulate, along with a wonderful sense of humor.
Clarence grew up in the Sunset District of San Francisco. He was very proud of having attended the prestigious Lowell High School. He did not serve during WWII because of chronic asthma, unfortunately, something I inherited as well. I’m not sure why he did not attend university.
His first job was stringing cable for the phone company. Perhaps that explains my obsession with cables. After that, he worked for my mom’s father as a clerk in a liquor store on the corner of Fillmore and Post Street. A few years later, he opened his own business across the street, a cigar store named Honest John. There was also back room that housed some illegal gaming. Often, I would hide in the back of his car when he went to work. He would act as if he did not know. My father detested this work. He longed for “legitimacy.”
After ten years of marriage, he left my mother. Soon after, he sold his business and got a real estate and insurance license. Then he went to college at night for many years, eventually getting an MBA. He had a very successful career in banking, leading the real estate divisions of several prominent banks before retiring.
My father ended up with four children, nine grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. With the exception of one great-grandchild, they are all old enough to remember him. It is a Jewish tradition to say that we die twice, once when our heart stops and the second time when the last person that has a memory of us, dies. So it is likely that my father has another 100 years ahead.
Parents are humans too, so it’s no surprise there are things we like and dislike about them. I hope we all try to take the best from them and discard, or at least learn from, the worst.
That is what I did and what I hope my sons will do.