Preparing to Speak

Kim and I rose to speak at the end of the funeral yesterday. I had asked our friend Mark Ribbins if he’d be willing to finish reading what I’d written if I was unable to. Mark, like so many others, has been such a great friend for so many years. We did readings at each others’ weddings. Having him behind me and so many wonderful friends in front of me and Kim beside me gave me an unexpected strength to get through the piece without breaking down.

I had joked to Kim that maybe we should just wing it. She said that I could if I wanted, while giving me a look that clearly said “what are you thinking.” When Kim and I were first married, we both were working and in graduate school. My side gig was working as a radio d.j. – or as we were called by then “air personality”.

I’d worked for so many radio stations under so many different names that when I had to introduce musicians or a comic onstage at a concert event I would have everything written on a note card. I’d even write the name I was working under: “I’m xxxx from Wyyy”. This made sense when I was working under names that were not my own. But it looked pretty silly that I had to write my own name down at the end when I was using it on the air. But, I didn’t want to get on stage and not remember who I was.

Who I was.

People get to know you in different ways. There are people who used to listen to me at night who had a connection to my voice. For some it’s as if you are inviting this person on the radio into your house. You are trusting them to hang with you in the morning or at work or when you are getting ready for bed at night.

I was at a health club years ago and a guy came up to me in the locker room and asked “Didn’t you used to be Daniel Steinberg?” I smiled and said yeah that’s who I was.

Who I was.

Gary Raymont, Elena’s kindergarten teacher, spoke at the funeral yesterday. He never called parents by their first name. He always called out “Hi Elena’s mom” and “Hi Elena’s dad”. To him, that’s who we were. Gary is a giant of a man whose heart is too big for the body that holds it. You see the light all around him wherever he walks.

It didn’t take me much time to let the guy in the health club know that I’m still Daniel Steinberg. The community of people who have called and written to us have reminded me that I’m still Elena’s dad. Thank you.

More than twenty years ago, Mark Ribbins and I worked in Urban Contemporary radio together. I began working there under the name of Mac Johnson – the name of a childhood friend. Carol Ford began refering to me as “Vanilla Fudge” but people didn’t catch on. They just thought I was light skinned. So it was shortened to “Fudge”. I teamed up with Matt Morgan to do the morning show and Mark did the weekend gospel show. His family owned a very prominent Christian book store. He thought that we should all do a show together with his brother John and with Luke Owens so that we could call it “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Fudge”.

Mark’s dad died while we were working together. It was one of the first wakes I’d ever been to. The line was out the door. It was there I first met his family. When I got to the front of the church Mark said, “mom, this is Fudge.” More than twenty years later Mark stood in line at a wake for my family. He and his wife Celeste are a part of our family. They are constants at our Passover table. They invited my parents to their wedding.

I knit a baby hat for his daughter Julia but had not yet met her. I finally went over to Mark and Celeste’s home to drop off the hat. The baby wasn’t there but Mark and I went for a walk and talked about her and so many other things. He said that it wouldn’t be long before baby Julia would be asking the four questions at our table.

The four questions. With Elena’s reading coming along lately, this was the year I had hoped she would be able to read that portion of the Passover Seder. So many little things will give us pause this year.

There were many times during the wake that I looked up because I felt someone’s presence in line. One of those was when Mark and Celeste walked in. I felt their hug long before they made it to the front of the line. And they brought us a gift. Mark was carrying their baby Julia.

She’s beautiful. She’s perfect. Meeting her was a gift that brightened Kim and me. Even in this difficult time, being a dad is just the best. I love that I can share this experience with such a great friend.

Published in: on February 28, 2006 at 7:20 am  Comments (4)  

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  1. I can understand it when you ask “Who I was?”. For many years, I was David’s twin, and then for a short shining brief time, I was Mr. Gee Kim. The word around her chemo clinic was that I had taken her last name when we got married, and in many ways that is true. My nieces and nephews, especially the children of my friends, the family I have chosen for myself are like Julia, a gift from them to me.

  2. Daniel

    You are the coffee. You will understand if you read this. I just received this email and immediately thought of you. Thank you again for sharing your stories. I now look forward to reading them every morning.



    You will never look at a cup of coffee the same way again……..

    A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

    Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

    In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in another bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl, too.

    Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

    “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

    Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.

    The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

    Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity.. boiling water. Each had reacted differently.

    The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

    The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

    The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were left sitting in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

    Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

    Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

    Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, … but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

    Or, am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity?

    Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

    The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

    When you were born, you cried while everyone around you smiled. Live your life so that at the end, you are the one who smiles while everyone around you cries.

    You might want to send this message to those people who mean something to you (I JUST DID); to those who have touched your life in one way or another; to those who make you smile when you really need it; to those who make you see the brighter side of things when you are really down; to those whose friendship you appreciate; to those who are so meaningful in your life. If you don’t, you will just miss out on the opportunity to brighten someone’s day with this message!

    May we all be COFFEE.

  3. sorry, offtopic.
    Elena, you a from Russia?

  4. hoodia

    revolutionary. breathtaking. awesome post dude.

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