Your father always worked. He left the house early, before we woke up, and stayed out late, usually after we all went to bed, even on weekends. Day after day and night after night, he came home mainly to eat and sleep, the first quickly, the second loudly, snoring away.
He managed real estate, office and residential buildings, working alongside and under his parents. He collected rents and oversaw maintenance and paid the superintendents, often putting in 18 hours a day.
Even while briefly at home, he remained remote from us, all but incommunicado. Often, unless he puttered in the garage, he went down to the recliner in his den. There, exhausted from working all the time, he napped.
As a little boy, you felt wronged. Your father was always on the go, here and gone, but more gone than here, no sooner here than gone again, always going, going, gone.
His job frustrated him. Early on, back in high school, he tinkered with telegraph machines, experimented with chemicals in a homemade laboratory. As it happened, he was able to take apart almost anything mechanical, whether a clock or a washing machine, and put it back together again, only better than before. He was drawn to technology and the possibilities of innovation.
In 1969 he found his true calling by accident. He went hunting by himself and slipped on a rock and hurt his back. Barely able to move and unable to call anyone for help, he took seven hours to crawl to his car. The traumatic episode gave him an idea — to establish a network that enabled the deaf to communicate by phone with one another and everyone else for the first time.
Toward that end, your father, who was severely hard of hearing, founded a non-profit organization. He bought, stored, adapted, promoted and distributed old teletypewriters, or TTYs. He worked out of a home office, a closet in our den with a fold-out desk. Within a few years, the devices, outfitted with special modems to tie into regular phone lines, cropped up in homes, schools, hospitals, libraries and local police, fire and emergency call departments, first in New York and New Jersey, then nationwide.
The TTY enterprise took over his life for the next 28 years, and thus yours as well. Your father connected with everyone except his own immediate family. As a teenager and then as a young man, you felt more wronged than ever.
Your father kept inventing, ever devoted to research and development, and created the world’s first Braille TTY for deaf-blind people. The deaf community honored him with awards. In 1975 Bell Telephone accepted him to the Telephone Pioneers of America, only the 29th member since Alexander Graham Bell in 1911. He once received a letter on White House stationary, congratulations on his accomplishments from President Ronald Reagan.
He dropped dead in 1997, at the age of 70, from a massive heart attack. After we buried him, about to leave him alone at last, much as he always wanted to be left alone, your Uncle Ward said something to you and your sister. “We all know he could have spent more time with his family,” he said, “but he’s a hero to the deaf community. So we should still think of him as a success.”