On Sunday afternoons, we would take a family drive in my parents' car, something my brother and I loathed. Jimmy was six years older than me. He wanted to be with his friends on the weekends, not riding in the backseat of our car with his little sister. We'd usually end up having Sunday dinner at a family-style restaurant that my parents loved. As we stood in line waiting to be seated, my father often told anyone who would listen that I was the "brains" of our family.
My father always encouraged me to get a good education, to do the things I enjoyed most, and to never be afraid. We'd sit on a cushioned metal glider on the front porch of our brick house in Elmont, looking up at the stars together. He showed me the various constellations in the sky, explained the solar system, and reminded me to dream big.
"See that moon up there. You can reach that high. Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars, Susan. You can be anything you want to be," he'd say. "Never be afraid because you can be anything you want to be."
I know to some people it may sound clichéd now, because we've all heard that advice at some point, but I was only five years old when he shared those inspiring and encouraging words with me for the first time. They made an indelible impression, one I've never forgotten. My father was fantastic in so many ways. I was definitely "Daddy's little girl." In fact, that was his favorite song to sing to me for many years growing up.
I cannot imagine a daughter having a better dad than my father. He made it a priority to spend as much time with his children as he could. In the summertime, he rented a little cottage in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound where we took long walks on the beach, swam together, and talked about life. Although it might sound like I was an indulged child, I wasn't. My father spoiled me with love and attention and with the luxury of his time, teaching me to draw, taking me horseback riding, ice skating, and years later, after he discovered golf, to the driving range.
Although he came from a very rough neighborhood, my father had developed an appreciation for the arts, especially drawing and music. My father and brother listened to opera. And with my mother, he listened to Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald. They were always on top of the latest entertainers. I remember walking in on my dad once while he was watching ballet on television. I was mesmerized by the image of him gazing at Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margo Fonteyn dancing together.
And, my father loved to draw, especially with charcoals and pastels. He taught me to do the same when I was a little girl. I loved it, too. One of the first drawings I ever did was a portrait of Caroline Kennedy with her dog that I copied from an issue of Ladies' Home Journal. My father and I worked on that drawing for weeks. Sadly, there's been no time in my life to continue that pursuit, but I loved it so. I learned to play the piano as a little girl, too, and though I didn't love to practice and wasn't a great pianist by any stretch of the imagination, I loved to sing! When I told my parents I was no longer interested in learning the piano, my father decided to take lessons with me as his way of encouraging me to continue on. I think playing the piano was a secret dream of his. It was fantastic that he cared so deeply about me getting the best education I could -- even piano lessons.