By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
My father is a proud owner of some spectacular one-liners. I call them “Gordon-isms,” and they’re smart, a little snarky, and always make you think. There’s always the surface meaning and a deeper one as well. It’s multifaceted and deep, sorta like the person coining these phrases.
People often comment that my father is quieter than they’d expect him to be once they meet him, but don’t misconstrue that as shyness or disinterest—he’s more of an observer, a thinker rather than a talker. As he’s highly sarcastic at times, you need to excel at what I refer to as verbal ping-pong. Banter is a requirement in the Gordon family—not optional but more of a mandatory skill embedded in our DNA.
My father is usually thinking up the snappy responses to the plethora of questions he receives on the daily. They range from questions on his business and the long-lasting success of this publication:
“Larry, I have to say, I’m a huge fan of your writing, and I read every issue!”
To which he responds, “Oh, you’re the one?” implying that there’s exactly one person reading his popular publication when, in reality, the number is slightly higher.
I’ve adopted the response for the various comments pertaining to my column in the paper (the one you’re currently reading) or the Instagram page (“I follow you!”) I’ve been working on for the last eight or so years.
Not everyone understands or appreciates a snarky retort when they’re being genuinely nice or trying to engage, but it’s something we Gordons do out of the necessity to:
1. have some fun;
2. engage with others in an approachable and humorous manner; and
3. out of the mere need to exercise some harmless wit and to test those who might possess the same gift and not know it yet.
See, in my family, it’s sink or swim when it comes to being a good conversationalist or storyteller.
Either you got it or you don’t. In Pirkei Avos it says: “Da ma l’hashiv”—know what to respond. (Ok, this may be referring to theological debate, but let’s generalize a little. Quoting stuff out of context is very trendy.) My father may not talk a lot, but he always knows what to respond. Sometimes the gift of gab is more about quality than quantity. There are courses given on the art of public speaking and though I’ve always shied away from doing so, my father is an absolute pro at it.
I’ve always been envious watching as he stands up in front of any number of people, seemingly nonplussed, and gives over his thoughts in a clear and concise manner.
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to acquire the skill of speaking publicly but at this point, I rely on my father and brother Nachi (of “Meaningful Minute” fame) who don’t seem the least bit concerned as to how stressful standing up in front of hundreds could potentially be. Although since my rise to widow-fame, I’ve been invited to speak—virtually, live, and on podcasts—and I’m finding it an acquired taste.
Another more serious query that has been posed in the last couple of years among well-meaning friends, as well as community members or people who don’t know us but still care, has been the common “how are the kids” question, pertaining to the emotional well-being of my children following the sudden loss of their father. This is one of those moments where it’s hard to know “ma l’hashiv” what to respond.
Instead of the typical “They’re doing well” response you might get from me, my father (a seasoned thinker) would pause and say, “I’ll get back to you in ten years.”
After all, can the behavior displayed by a child of impressionable age indicate what the long-term effects will be as he matures into young adulthood?
He can respond the way people expect him to, or, better yet, the honest way, which basically says that while they seem as happy, well-adjusted, and ordinary as children their ages can be, little can be known as to how their personalities will take shape as they grow up without a father.
He’s not doing it to sound a certain way. He’s doing it because like my kids, like me, and like the rest of my family, we’re simply unsure of what the future holds when the unexpected happens.
We try things as we go; we wing it because there’s little other choice. I know that when he says what he says, he does so to supply a response as well as to make people think, but deep down, he’s proud of how far we’ve come in a relatively short amount of time.
I know this because of his newest and my favorite Gordonism—the one where people approach him regarding my toddler-age column, expressing to him how much they enjoy its content.
He acts out the way some people come over to him at shul, at the bagel store (it’s not just a column, he’s also fond of bagel stores), or in his neighborhood, and their opener is usually, “Your daughter…”
My father stands before them—and I’m sure in the beginning he would nod his head and thank them for their kind words—and responds with his newest gem: “She’s taught me everything I know.”
A comment that’s usually saved to describe the ways a parent or role model has left an indelible impression has sneaked its way into his known repartee, and though I know that it’s mostly said for humor, it feels good. You’re never too old to appreciate kind feedback from your parents, or to hear that they’re proud of you. As much as I enjoy all the beautiful messages that come in from readers and social media followers, the pleasure of hearing that I give a parent nachas, even in the form of an offhand playful comment, hits a different place in the heart.
It also makes me wonder if there just might be some truth to me teaching him something he hadn’t known. One day, I’ll get out of him what that something is. I know it’ll be good.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.