Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my Father, Irvin Slom. No middle name, because that was the way in the day. (Although, in later years, Pop added, “J. Irvin” on his own because he thought it sounded more professional). With Father’s Day this weekend it is a good time to put some words to paper.
My Dad was born in Philadelphia and died (and is buried in Punchbowl) in Honolulu in 1986. A lot happened during his 70 years and he had a profound impact on my life, work ethic and core beliefs. So did my Mother-who died in 1992 and whose ashes were scattered off Ala Moana Beach Park-but they were different. She was of stoic English stock, not a hands-on person, but a woman achiever who broke the “glass ceiling” long before current female politicians claim to have done so.
(Maybe I’ll save her story for Mother’s Day). Pop was more gregarious, outgoing and emotional. He was into touching, hugs and kisses before it became vogue for men.
My Pop lived a full-and interesting life in Pennsylvania, Florida, South Carolina, California and Hawaii. (Just ask some of the women he knew!) He worked hard all of his life and was very business innovative.
His Father-my Grandfather, Samuel, whom I never met but was named for-came from Poland (of Polish and Russian ethnicity) and settled in Philly opening a small retail store. Pop had a sister, my Aunt Dorothy, who lived in New Jersey until passing away in recent months.
Pop’s Father died during the Depression and when my Grandmother remarried a man with his own children, he informed my Dad there wasn’t room, money or space for my teen-aged Dad. So, he left on his own without being able to finish school.
He always regretted that, though it wasn’t his choice, and he revered education and teaching. Yet, he was an educated man. Later on when I was teaching at Hawaii Pacific University, I think he was the proudest and happiest for me; he never lived long enough to see me in political office where I don’t think he would be as proud.
My Dad was tall for his age, acted older, and possessed business savvy and street smarts. He overcame many obstacles without complaint or blame. Self esteem and confidence came easily. He always believed in what any man (or woman) could do. He was always positive.
He started working in sales-his true profession-and traveled to New England and wherever there was opportunity. He often lied about his age but was able to do the job. He was never afraid to work at any job and gained a lot of new experience and wealth for the time.
He liked the ladies and married my Mother-a model, singer, dancer and actress (later a fashion buyer, Administrative Secretary and Realtor®)-when they both were in their mid-twenties. He was working for a major Pennsylvania appliance store when he was drafted.
Pop was patriotic but wasn’t eager to go into the Army and leave his business and his family. I told the story recently during the anniversary of D-Day of his being wounded (and receiving the Purple Heart) winding up in the hospital at Colorado Springs. He was very happy because he listened to the D-Day invasion on the radio and knew he was to be patched up and sent home soon.
Alas, they patched him up but sent him back to Europe, to Bastogne, where he got to participate in the fierce Battle of the Bulge and to serve under General George Patton. He never liked to talk about the war (like so many WWII vets) but he did dislike the cold and sought warmer climes after that. He said how rough and tough Patton was, but that without him, many more soldiers would have died. He insisted on my patriotism, love of country and free enterprise, and support for our military.
Ever the entrepreneur, my Pop made business connections during the War, and when he returned to Pennsylvania, he was able to get appliances and other goods from all over the country that had been rationed or unavailable. He then started his own appliance store in Allentown, Pennsylvania, “Samson’s.” Get it? Sam, his son? He competed with some of the giant retailers and former employers along the East Coast. He showed me how he used his new German wire recorder to make radio ads.
In our living room. He was an expert on advertising, PR and marketing-self taught. Later, when television came-and he sold them first-he made TV ads too. He knew business plans without ever writing one down. He knew room sizes, inventories and wholesale and retail costs by sight. He was amazing. He was doing great.
Then I-6 or 7 at the time-was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. Little understood at the time (1940s). The doctors – I believe they were in conspiracy with the Florida Chamber of Commerce-recommended I be taken to a warmer climate. My Grandfather had a farm (6,000 Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, cows, turkeys and peacocks) in Davie, outside of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I went to live there. My Mother soon joined me. And my Dad, not wishing to be separated, sold his successful businesses (he had added Jack’s Furniture) and moved there too.
When we were in Florida, my Dad got involved in real estate. Florida-and Ft. Lauderdale-was not much in those days. Alligators on the property, hurricanes, lots of mosquitoes, and flat terrain. But a lot of interest in land. Pop developed, “Sloms All-American Homes,” and sold a 3-bedroom, 1-bath house-with a Rambler American auto in the carport – for $10,000 in the early 1950s.
I hated that because we were always moving as he started more housing developments. One year I went to 4 different schools. Pop branched out into furniture, cars, more appliances and investment land.
Throughout my life, during successes, challenges, dumb decisions and medical emergencies, my Father was always there, coming from wherever he was, to be with me. Even if I didn’t really want him there. My parents divorced when I was 11 and he continued to stay in touch despite any distance.
When he remarried and had his second family including my sister Cheri and brother Greg (who both live in Bradenton, Florida) he managed to always communicate with me. I knew I could depend on him.
When I graduated from high school, he and Cheri were there. He wanted me to attend the University of Florida and when I told him I was coming to Hawaii, he said I was crazy. But, then, he supported my decision.
I grew up with my Pop being very successful, at times with a lot of money (and he was always generous to friends and strangers) and also saw him dead broke, selling family jewelry. I still remember the day we hid in our house when the repo man took away Pop’s Cadillac.
I also remember family trips, baseball games-the Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees, original Athletics and others-and even plays and concerts. He was a man of many interests. Not really the outdoor type. He never learned how to swim.
He was never afraid or too proud to work and take care of himself and his family. I learned the true meaning of cyclical times. And on those rare occasions when he was down, he snapped back with a smile, a laugh and usually a cheesy poem or two. He was always making up poems, writing little notes to make people feel good.
Pop wasn’t a saint. Far from it. But he was the genuine article. He was a woman’s man and a man’s man. He was respectful of women and demanded his children respect all women even if a Mother or woman had unkind things to say about him. Pop also said, “Everything, But in Moderation.” He didn’t always practice what he preached.
When he first came to Hawaii, and I was a UH student, he had an apartment in the old Waikiki Cadillac. He invited me, and my date, up to “see the sunset” before the prom. I went into the kitchen to get something, and that guy made a play for my date! During that first trip to Hawaii, he visited multi-business corporation SERVCO Pacific to tell them they could have some of his talents. They weren’t interested. He learned early about Hawaii’s business plan and how outsiders fit in-or not.
During another time in Hawaii, he came with me to a 10-10 Day reception at the former Republic of China (Taiwan) embassy on Pali Highway. A group of protesters, led by UH Marxist Professor, Oliver Lee, carrying pro Red Chinese flags and slogans, got louder and louder outside the wall on the sidewalk. At first, Pop lectured me about free speech, understanding and kumbayah.
However, as the protests got even louder and nastier, and Lee’s group insulted America, police and others had to restrain my Dad from leaping over the wall to rip out Mr. Lee’s entrails. That was Pop. He was a proud, but not arrogant, man. He could be pig-headed, or consoling.
As a child, I both respected and feared him. He was old school. He had this boa constrictor belt. But he loved his children and was the perfect Pop-Pop for other children who gravitated to him. He disliked cats, and they invariably came to him. He thought it a weakness to rest or take a nap, but would go into the old Cinerama Theatre in the afternoon and fall asleep in the air-conditioned, quiet. He never could tell me anything about the movie he “saw.”
On another occasion, he worked at Adjust-A-Bed on the corner of Ward and Kapiolani across from the Blaisdell. One night, with store lights blazing, he fell asleep on one of the beds. Passers by called the police who, unable to awaken him from the outside, and finding the door locked, broke in. He was fine and it was a good commercial for his product. He was usually a perfect sleeper; another important trait he passed on.
And that man knew where to find good food on the cheap in Honolulu. Even when he had the most money, he taught me frugality and not to waste it but to use money to help other people.
Being in control of his own life was paramount to Pop. Even to make bad decisions. He beat all the odds and doctors when he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer in Charleston, South Carolina and was given hours to live. He returned with me to Hawaii and lived for 18 months more.
My only regrets are that my youngest children never got to meet and enjoy him and that I never was able to get him to put down his life and stories on video. (Most interestingly, my youngest son Spencer, has some of Irv’s idiosyncrcies and traits without ever having met him)
Pop thought he could beat death too and never liked to talk about it. He taught me to accept responsibility, to surround myself with positive thoughts and people, new ideas, youth, and to be a full-time Father.
Thanks Pop; I hope I haven’t disappointed you.
Sam Slom is a professional consulting economist, president and executive director of SmartBusiness Hawaii (SBH), and owner of his own business, SMS Consultants. He is also a Republican State Senator (8th district Oahu), Hawaii Kai to Diamond Head. Reach him via email at mailto:SBH@lava.net