My Father, My Mentor, My Hero

Dad and me

My father, Richard Beaman, was a man of strong character.

When I was growing up, he worked as an electrician during the day, and at night he attended law school, and on the weekends he worked construction.

This guy had a strong work ethic.

He was a powerful force of energy. If he wanted something, he set his sights on it and did not stop until his goals were realized.

After years of attending night school, he became a lawyer. He quit his construction job and worked full time, as a lawyer, until he was eighty years old. The only reason my father stopped working was due to a stroke that forced him into immediate retirement.

Actually, it wasn’t one stroke that put him out of work. It was a series of strokes, about eight or nine, in a row, that finally stopped him.

Work was important to my dad and he instilled that same ethic in me.

Sophocles said, “Without labor, nothing prospers.”

My father grew up during the great depression. He told me that his family was poor. So poor, in fact, that at one point his parents didn’t have enough money to feed the family and pay the rent. So, when the landlord came knocking, they just packed up and moved to a new apartment. He said they moved about twenty times in a three-year period.

The only time we moved when I was growing up, was when my dad moved us into a larger home than the one we were living in. After that, he gave us a second home in East Marion, Long Island – a fun summer house.  

Unlike my father’s upbringing, I felt a sense of stability; we always had a roof over our heads.

During the great depression, my father knew hunger.

My brothers and sister, and I, never knew hunger. We would often complain that we were hungry, as kids do, but we never went without a meal.

My father not only provided us with food, but he provided us with an ABUNDANCE of food.

We had three refrigerators: one “regular” refrigerator containing everyday food; one deep freezer where we kept frozen foods and meats; and a third refrigerator filled with cases of tiramisu, chocolate layer cake, cheesecake, and of course, his favorite beers, Grolsch, Becks, and Sam Adams.

He loved to relax with a cold beer after a hard day’s work.

Dad also threw an annual Superbowl party and invited 75-100 people, and he would always purchase food for about 200.

My brother-in-law, Lyndon, would say, “Mr. Beaman, don’t buy so much food. It’ll go to waste.”

“Don’t worry, people will take food home with them,” Dad said.

After the Superbowl party, my father would get angry if guests didn’t stuff their pockets with sandwiches or take a plate of something, or even an entire cheesecake.

My father taught me great lessons about generosity.

Every year, around the holidays, I watched him mix raw egg yolks, heavy cream, and chocolate syrup, with bottles of scotch and whiskey.  His homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream was strong as heck! Just like him.

He would take gallons of that high-octane brew to the courthouse where he worked and share it with his co-workers. It made him happy to share. And, of course, it made everyone at the courthouse happy to get buzzed on “Beaman’s brew.”

My father was filled with wit and sarcasm and he played the part of a racist, anti-semite, and male chauvinist really well.

As President of the he-man-woman-haters club, his annual Superbowl party came with a list of rules. One was that women (or wenches, as he affectionately referred to them) were not allowed to speak during the football game unless they were asking the men if they needed another beer.

As a white-trash, white supremacist, he would invite his best friend, Dennis Groves, to our summer house in Long Island. Then he would tell Dennis not to hang out on the front porch too long otherwise the sight of his “black essence” would bring down the value of the neighborhood.

My mom bought my dad a sweatshirt that had the words “Super Goy” emblazoned across the front. For those of you that don’t know what a “goy” is, it’s a “non-Jew.” Apparently, playing the part of an anti-semite made the Jewish girls want to marry him.

When Richard and Mona first met it was taboo for a Jewish gal to date a Catholic man. Especially a Catholic man that was also German.

Her family was dead set against this union and they refused to attend the wedding of Richard and Mona.

My father told me that on the wedding day he phoned my grandparents and said, “Listen… I love your daughter and she loves me. I’m going to marry her and take care of her for the rest of her life. I know you don’t like my German heritage or my religion, so you don’t have to show up for me, but I need you to show up for your daughter, and support her on her day.”

My mom’s parents sensed he was a man of conviction, and they showed up.

At the wedding, my dad promised Mona’s parents that he would love her and care for the rest of her life, and he would raise their children to know about the Jewish traditions.

My father taught me about integrity – he kept his word.

We celebrated Christmas and Easter, and Passover, and Hanukah. And, every year my German Catholic father placed a yarmulke on top of his head and read prayers from the Torah in Hebrew.

Toward the end of my grandmother’s life, she called me into the dining room and said to me, “I need to tell you something about your father.”

My father had cleared out our dining room, purchased a hospital bed, hired a full-time nurse, and set up the dining room as a hospice for my Grandmother. He didn’t want her to die alone in a hospital with strangers. He wanted her to be around family.

She said, “I didn’t approve of your father when Mona brought him home. I didn’t think he was the right choice for her. But, your mother knew better. Your father was the best choice she could have ever made. He is a good man.”

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given my father was on his 80th birthday. I told him what my grandmother said about him when she was on her deathbed. His eyes glossed over, his lips tightened, and he formed a downward smile (to hold in his emotions, of course).

He said to me, “I never knew she felt that way about me. I never knew she accepted me.”

My dad was an avid hiker and camper and he taught me to LOVE the outdoors.

Every year he took us camping to Fire Island or upstate New York in the Adirondack Mountains. While other kids were enjoying Disney world, riding the Magic Mountain rollercoaster, and eating cotton candy, we were hiking up mountains in search of hidden ponds, crossing small streams, and getting attacked by leeches and mosquitoes.

I wanted to go to Disneyland with the rest of the kids, but the best place for us was out in nature and my dad knew it.

A place he particularly liked was a large reservoir called Indian Lake. One of the rocky islands in the lake had a tall cliff that stood fifteen feet above the water.

My dad piled us into a metal dinghy with a six-mph engine and took us to that cliff. He was the first one to jump in to test the safety and depth of the water.

But, I was way too scared to jump in. Fifteen feet is a big drop, especially for a scrawny little six-year-old kid!

He brought me to the edge of the cliff and said, “Don’t look down.”

Then he held my hand and said, “We’re going to jump in on three.  One…two… three!”

And, whether I was ready or not, we jumped.

My father taught me how to take big leaps into life: don’t be afraid, just jump in.

Growing up in Queens, New York, my oldest brother was frequently in trouble. One night when I was twelve years old, I heard a ruckus on the front lawn. I opened the door and saw twenty or thirty guys standing with baseball bats, thick link chains, and crowbars.

One guy said to me, “Go back into the house and send Beaman, out.”

So, I went back into the house and into the kitchen, where my father was enjoying his dinner and nightly bottle of beer.

“Dad, I think some guys are looking for Ricky. They’ve got bats and stuff, and there’s a lot of them.”

My father exhaled heavily. He he finished chewing his mouthful of dinner, took a gulp of Grolsch (his favorite beer), and then headed toward the front door.

He warned me to stay inside and keep the door locked.

I did as I was told, and then sat and watched the drama unfold outside through the open window.

He stepped out onto the front porch and asked what the problem was.

A big guy, covered in tattoos, wearing a leather biker vest, blue jeans ripped at the knees, and holding a crowbar said, “We’re looking for Beaman.”

“I’m Beaman. What do you want?”

“We’re not looking for you old man, we’re looking for your son.”

My father walked down the steps and stood directly in front of the big guy. The thug was a full head taller than my father, and at least sixty pounds heavier. My dad tilted his head up and talked directly into the big guy’s face.

“If you’ve got a problem with any Beaman, you’ve got a problem with me.”

The big guy laughed, “C’mon old man. Go back inside. You can’t take us all on.”

“I’m not taking everyone on. I’m taking you on. And, when your punk friends watch me knock your lights out they are going to run away.”

The big guy didn’t say anything. He pulled his head back and looked at my father in disbelief.

My father stared back, and then made good on his threat. He took two steps away from the big guy, balled his huge hands into fists, and took a fighting stance.

“You have ten seconds to get off my property.”

The big guy hesitated. He nervously looked around at his friends, and then looked back at my father.

My father started counting down… “ten…

“I said we got no beef with you, old man.”

“nine… eight… seven… six… five…. “

The big guy said to the other guys, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

They quickly disassembled.

I never saw any of those guys on my lawn ever again.

There were two you didn’t do to my father; you didn’t threaten him or anyone he loved, and you didn’t interrupt his dinner.

After childhood, I became an unruly teenager myself and grew distant from my father. I didn’t understand him at all. He had a big tough exterior, and that’s all I saw.

At 18 eighteen years old I worked as a bartender in Manhattan. One day an electrician working on a construction site up the block came into the bar for a beer. He heard someone call me by my last name.

He looked up and said, “Beaman? By any chance, are you related to Dick Beaman?”

“Yep, that’s my dad.”

He immediately got up and walked back out of the bar. In a few minutes he came back with no less than fifteen or twenty construction workers. He pointed at me and said, “That’s Dick Beaman’s kid.”

They all just stood there and stared at me. And, then they thanked me and wanted to shake my hand, and told me to please send thier thanks and regards to my dad.

I said, “How do you guys know my dad?”

And, then a complete stranger sat down and told me a story about my father.

My dad worked as an Electrician for Local 3 and was going to school at night to become a lawyer. After he passed the bar exam, he sued Local 3 for the rights of the workers. Local 3 was infuriated because they didn’t want to dish out more money or benefits to the workers. The local 3 “henchmen” would wait for my father, wielding bats and link chains. They threatened his life on a daily basis and told him to give up his fight against the union or he and his family would suffer the consequences. He got into quite a few physical altercations with the tough guys. But, my dad stood his ground – just like I saw him stand his ground with that thug who was looking for my older brother.

My father fought the union, in the streets and in the courthouse, until they gave the workers the rights they deserved. Today Local 3 has one of the best benefits packages for their workers because of my father’s steadfast determination to stand up and fight injustice.

Every day I worked in that bar another electrician came in to shake my hand, tell me their name, and ask me to send their “thanks” to my dad. Some of the older guys would sit and tell me stories about him. On the outside, I listened to these stories, but on the inside, I didn’t let any of them penetrate my heart.

At that time in my life, I hated my dad!

My mom confided in me that my father was highly sensitive and deeply hurt that I was staying out late at night, smoking and cursing like a drunken sailor, and getting high on drugs. He wanted a better life for me. He thought I deserved better than what I was giving to myself but, he couldn’t express his pain to me.

He kept the pain inside. Instead, he got angry, withdrew, and stopped speaking with me.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I got angry and stopped speaking to him, too.

From the time I was fifteen until I was twenty-one years old, we barely uttered one word to each other. Except on Christmas, when we would say… “uhm… Merry Christmas” to each other.  And, I would walk away and mumble something derogatory under my breath.

It wasn’t until my mom’s battle with cancer that I began to understand my father.

I remember coming home one day and watching my parents slowly walking up the block holding hands. They stopped walking, and she leaned up against him for support. She was exhausted from the chemo and radiation treatments. They continued walking a few more steps and she stopped and leaned up against him once more. He reached down, picked her up, and carried her in his arms, the way a husband would carry his bride across the threshold. Then, after about 15 feet he set her down gently, and they began walking hand in hand. Every few feet he would pick her up and carry her again, and again until they disappeared around the corner.

At one point during my mom’s illness, she weighed only 78 pounds, had lost all of her beautiful red curls, and was physically unable to get out of bed. My father would come home from the courthouse and immediately go to my mom’s bedside and give her a kiss.

He would lean over and say, “Hello boopsy doodle. How’s by you?” She would open her eyes and smile. Then he would poke her nose and say, “Have you been loafing around all day moochin’ off of me again?”

No matter how many times he said it, and no matter how weak she was, it always made her giggle.

My father taught me that loyalty and love are synonymous.

It took cancer and the death of my mother for me to see my father from the inside out. Once I understood him, it was very easy for me to love him.

It’s amazing how tragedy has a way of breaking open the heart.

Two weeks after mom died, my father and I were driving back to Queens from Union Square Farmer’s market in NYC. He loved shopping at the farmer’s market to pick-up scones, muffins, apple cider, pies, and pear chutney for the family.

Staring straight ahead at the road, he said, “How can I take care of you kids without your mother? I can’t do this without Mona.”  And, that was the second time I’ve ever seen my father cry.  The first time was when he buried his sweetheart two weeks prior.

He was right about not being able to care for us without my mom. He could financially support us, but couldn’t effectively communicate and share his heartfelt emotions. He could provide food, shelter, protection, and everything we needed for our physical survival, but he couldn’t express his deep concerns about his children.

He was strong on the outside and soft for his family and the people he loved, on the inside.

When my dad suffered his stroke his physical body was not the same and it caused him a great deal of frustration and emotional pain. 

He never fully regained strength in his left leg and walked with a limp.  He was also stubborn as an ox and refused to use the cane they gave him at the rehabilitation center (picture at right), so he fell a few times.

The stroke put my dad into immediate retirement, and he could no longer do what he loved: work, provide support, and take care of people. This caused him deep sadness.

Robert Byrne said, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

After my dad’s stroke, I think he felt a sense of purposelessness. Over the last year and a half of his life, he was more often depressed than happy. His usual wit and sarcasm were less frequent, and he was grumpy. The grandkids, and us adult kids, even started calling him Grumpa instead of Grampa.

Although, we NEVER called him that to his face because he was still pretty strong and could have easily knocked our lights out.

On December 18th, 2011 my father was struck and killed by a truck in Long Island. And, although his death was tragic, I think he was ready for it.  We, on the other hand, were not. It happened so quickly.

But, that’s life.

It’s obvious that there was some work that needed to be done in the universe and God called upon the hardest working man he knew. He said to his angels, “Go get Richard Beaman. Right now!  We need him up here.”

And, my father’s work on this planet was complete.

My father was my mentor and my hero. I am the person I am today because of his influence in my life.

I am the proud daughter of Richard Edward Beaman.

He was a man of strong character.  He didn’t do anything meekly – he did everything to the tenth power.

And, his big presence in this world is greatly missed.

dad and me
dad and me