Things My Father Taught Me: Jessica Herman

Sometimes, someone comes along and makes an indelible impression on a life. Indelible. For me, that’s Jessica Herman. She’s cut from a different cloth. Elegant. Smart. Sweet. And altogether one of the most down-to-earth women I’ve met. She’s an associate editor at Time Out Chicago magazine, and she’s one of the Dosettes, four women who host Dose, a once monthly market in Chicago which launched earlier this month. I’m so happy she set aside time to write something for this series. Her father’s impression on her life is, in a word, indelible.

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We’re thirty seconds into the Kiddish, and I’m giggling. So is my older sister, Lea. At the same time, she’s giving me a half “don’t even start” grin, knowing we’re about to get it from my father. She’s right. He shoots me a look and lets out a puff of frustration, as if to say, grow up and take this moment seriously. That was 15 years ago, when nearly every Friday night was dedicated to a Shabbat family dinner.

My dad is the farthest thing from a hard ass, but he places a high value on tradition and family and genuine shared experiences. He’s also a crier. Big time. And as we’ve all continued to age, it’s become a running joke, and expectation, that my father will cry when he’s touched by a gesture or experience.

It might sound strange to say that the thing my father taught me was how to cry. It would also be untrue. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I more likely inherited my seemingly bottomless tear ducts than learned how to cry. And if I had my druthers, I’d have more control over them than I do. Still, it’s a part of me that makes me feel like my father’s daughter. Over all these years, he’s led by experience to show me just how okay it is to show my emotions, too.

To paint a picture, my dad is 6’5’’. As a 62-year-old man, he’s tall and lanky, but when I was a kid, he carried me on his back for miles and miles of hiking trips through Yosemite, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. His extraordinarily deep baritone voice stuck out in the crowd at Saturday morning services and James Taylor singalongs around the piano at our house. Based on looks alone, he’s not your average sensitive, new-aged man.

More importantly, though, is why he becomes emotional and what that means to me. It’s not that he’s a sad guy; he’s one of the silliest men I know [see Dad picking up my best friend, Emily, after a river rafting trip]. More often than not, it’s because he’s listening to my sister’s music, reading a letter from a student he mentored, reminiscing on a camping trip with his third-grade buddies, or saying goodbye at the end of one of my parents’ month-long February visits to Chicago. He jokes now that I’m always waiting for his tears, and to an extent, it’s true. Seeing him well up shows me how much he cares. That he’s both present and sentimental and perhaps also nostalgic. I wonder sometimes what he’s thinking about, and guess that he’s remembering his parents and wishing they were here with us, or just thinking about life cycles and where we’ll be in five or 15 years.

When I think about moving back to California, I think about what I miss with my father in relaying more stories over the phone than sharing them with him in person. I think about Friday night dinners, singing the prayers over the candles, and yes, welling up a little. I wish I were with you now when you read this, so I could see your reaction. Because, you know, if you don’t shed a few tears, I’ll be upset.

Jessica Herman

4 Comments

  1. John Allen
    June 25, 2011

    Great post! It reminds me very much of my own dad, especially the crying bit. I’ve grown up in a family of seven kids in rural Iowa, and my dad is very much of a family man. He’s very emotional too, and it’s somewhat of a joke around our house, because it always comes out at big family gatherings. For example, we may be having a festive dinner at Christmas, when all the kids are back, and dad gives one of his legendary dinner speeches. Here’s when us kids start kicking each other under our long wooden table, thinking to ourselves, “Here comes the tears.” We’re always right. As dad begins to mention how glad he is that we all are back together for dinner, he stumbles over his words and stops. Then struggling to hold back the tears as his eyes gloss over, he manages to finish his speech with a smile on his face and a wet hanky. I was always very embarrassed when I was a small kid, but now that I’m 20, I’m beginning to appreciate his emotional personality. It shows to me that he really cares about his family and doesn’t mind to show it.

    Thanks again for the post!

  2. Claire Bidwell Smith
    July 28, 2011

    I loved this post so much! The pictures were so lovely, and already knowing Jess (and her tear ducts) it was so sweet to hear the full story behind them. And yes, I welled up a bit.

  3. louise de lima
    August 29, 2011

    So beautiful and touching. I love Dads!!

  4. Altman’s Shoes
    August 31, 2011

    […] first learned of this crazy place from Jessica Herman, after Dana Altman wrote to clue her into this incredible find, and immediately, my mind raced like […]

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