Morrie’s father, whom everyone called Charlie, had come to America to escape the Russian Army. He worked in the fur business, but was constantly out of a job. Uneducated and barely able to speak English, he was terribly poor, and the family was on public assistance much of the time.
The author explains that Morrie’s early life was difficult. His father, Charlie, made very little money, so they lived in a small, dark, and depressing apartment. Although Charlie’s immigration from Russia probably improved his life in some respects, he was never able to get much further ahead due to his lack of education. Morrie could look at Charlie to realize that not being educated would result in a tough and sad life. Morrie took in this lesson.
[I]n the mornings he would go to synagogue to say Yizkor—the memorial prayer for the dead—for his mother. He did this to keep her memory alive. Incredibly, Morrie had been told by his father never to talk about her. Charlie wanted young David to think Eva was his natural mother.
After Charlie remarried, he asked Morrie not to talk about his mother because he wanted Morrie’s younger brother, David, to forget her and bond with his stepmother instead. While this prohibition made Morrie feel very alone, Charlie may have felt that David would live a happier life if he didn’t long for his birth mother. And Charlie should get credit for bringing Eva into the family because she was a loving stepmother and a good influence.
Charlie Schwartz was a quiet man who liked to read his newspaper, alone, under a streetlamp on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. Every night, when Morrie was little, Charlie would go for a walk after dinner. . . . Morrie and his brother, David, would look out the window and see him leaning against the lamppost, and Morrie wished he would come inside and talk to them, but he rarely did. Nor did he tuck them in, nor kiss them goodnight.
The author explains that Charlie did not communicate with his children and did not show them affection. He provided for them, albeit poorly, but he did not give them the attention they wanted. Whether he lacked the skills to communicate or just had nothing nice to say remains unclear. This childhood helped Morrie make the conscious decision to be a completely different type of father than Charlie was, always showing his children affection in both word and act.
He flew to New York and went to the morgue. . . . “Is this your father?” the attendant asked. . . . He nodded and he walked away. The horror of the room, he would later say, sucked all other functions out of him. He did not cry until days later. Still, his father’s death helped prepare Morrie for his own. This much he knew: there would be lots of holding and kissing and talking and laughter and no good-byes left unsaid, all of the things he missed with his father and his mother.
The author explains how Charlie’s lack of communication extended even to Morrie’s own death. Charlie died suddenly in New York while Morrie was living in Boston, and Morrie never had a chance to say goodbye. Having a completely different personality than his father, Morrie was always going to share his feelings with his children, but losing his father without getting any chance to communicate feelings beforehand must have given his interactions with his children near the end a special urgency.
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