How My 93-Year-Old Grandfather Became My Dad

A tribute to my best friend on Father's Day.

ByABC News
June 19, 2016, 2:59 AM
Michael Rothman, left, sits down with grandfather Paul Rothman for a discussion on heritage.
Michael Rothman, left, sits down with grandfather Paul Rothman for a discussion on heritage.
Jeff Swartz/ABC News

— -- I used to be jealous of all my friends who were close with their fathers growing up.

For years, I watched and was invited to baseball games, dinners and even high school sporting events as my buddies all leaned on their dads for friendship and support. I never had that.

My dad wasn’t around much and my mother did the best she could to raise me on her own. Fast forward to about 15 years ago.

On the outside, I was doing well. I was excelling in school, had an idea of what I wanted to eventually do in life and tons of friends. I was even dating a little.

But I also had a ton of anger, most of it aimed at my father. I didn’t realize then how much that anger would affect me in the coming years, and was also focused mainly on going out with friends to compensate for what was lacking at home.

Paul Rothman is seen in this undated family photo.
Michael Rothman

Everything looked great on paper, but I certainly wasn’t on the best track. It was a very disjointed form of success -– good grades, but no vision for the future. I’d get a great internship, but then skip work to hang with friends. It was the beginning of a very troubling path.

Then I got a letter from my grandfather, Paul. We hadn’t really gotten a chance to connect prior because I was so young, but now that I was becoming a young adult, he reached out to me and wanted to be involved. Paul wanted to have a hand in the man I was becoming, so I wrote back (yes, we wrote letters) and didn’t know it then, but that would be the best decision I’ve ever made.

I won’t bore you with the details, but a close bond formed. We got a dinner here and there at first. Then, as we got more comfortable with each other, he’d invite me to come out with him and the love of his life, Geraldine Rosen.

The two of them have been together for more than 25 years and she’s like a grandmother to me. (But that’s another sappy story for another time)

What I didn’t have with my father, I had with my grandfather. The bravado, the work ethic, the stories and the stories and the stories … and the stories. You see, Paul or GrandPaul as I call him now is incredible. Charming, a war hero, an accomplished businessman, everything I'd aspire to be. I mention his stories, because he loves to tell them and I’m better off for it.

Paul was Mark Zuckerberg long before there was a Facebook. He was Bill Gates long before personal computers. He’d do things like travel to Africa to do business on a whim, buying up damaged items because he knew there was value and simply thinking outside the box in astounding ways. The man could teach a business course at Harvard if he wanted.

When Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, he bought up all the fabric that had 49 stars on it for pennies on the dollar and used that fabric to make bikinis.

“Who cares how many stars are on a bikini,” I remember him saying, laughing with his loud, roaring chuckle. This is the epitome of Paul. Change is opportunity and you need to take it now, don’t wait.

He once got a telegram -- much like we do now, where you get an email about some Nigerian Prince related to you, who left you a million dollars. Paul flew out to Africa the next day and brought his fabric samples, nothing else, with him. This was no email scam.

After years of working with this small nation and its president, he built up quite a business, so they made him an Ibu Chief. It’s something he’s incredibly proud of to this very day.

Michael Rothman sits down with grandfather Paul Rothman, left, for a discussion on heritage.

So, it took time for me. Over the years, I would bring girlfriends to meet Paul and Gerri. They were always the barometer of success. Both irresistible and a joy to be around, plus a great example of what a true relationship looks like. I would just watch, listen and try to learn all I could.

My grandfather would sit me down and tell me to think bigger, think about a career, not a job -- there’s a difference. He would ask me, “What’s next? Are they going to promote you, give you a raise?” No one had ever asked me what’s next.

So, my anger dissipated, and I eventually forgave my father.

Paul has always been very generous, but what he was always more generous with was advice. He’s always the first person I call with good news and the first person I call when I have a question.

Paul Rothman is seen in this undated family photo.
Michael Rothman

Life isn’t perfect by any means now, but there’s definitely a change that has taken years to solidify. I’m not as angry as I once was, but grateful to have this amazing human being in my life.

I’m better at my job because of Paul and not afraid to speak my mind. I’m also not afraid to take chances. I’m not at his level quite yet, but I’m sure he has more stories to tell and I’ll get there.

I’m also a better person. Being able to love and respect him, while watching him interact with Gerri, has helped me with my relationships. I’m not married yet and don’t have children of my own, but this bond lets me know it is possible. I’m clearly a different person now.

This weekend I’ll be going to the Hamptons to spend Father’s Day weekend with Paul and Gerri, something we’ve done for the past three years now. Years ago, I’d be going to party with friends or something else to serve as a distraction. But now I couldn’t be happier than spending a quiet weekend with them, hearing their stories.

GrandPaul's 93 now, and while I’d love 10, 20 more years with him, I know that’s going to be hard. I just plan to spend as much time with him as I can and soak everything up like a sponge while he’s here. It’s been an amazing 15 years and times sure have changed. I’m not jealous anymore.

In fact, everyone’s jealous of me, because I have the greatest “father” in the world.

Happy Father’s Day.