Home > Uncategorized > My Dad, Don Baird 4/25/10

My Dad, Don Baird 4/25/10

May 4 is the first anniversary of my Dad’s death. I miss him terribly and I wish I could talk to him about so many things. I want to reflect back on the man that he was.
My Dad was representative of the Greatest Generation. After serving in the army, he returned to Philadelphia in the mid 40’s and he went to work. He started his own textile trading business. With help from no one at the start, he created the business and he made it into a very successful enterprise.
Dad traded all over the world. In the 50’s and 60’s, he and my mom frequently travelled to Europe (especially Italy), Japan, and Hong Kong. Dad also went to India, Pakistan, the Middle East, and South America. Long before globalization, my dad and mom were wonderful diplomats and ambassadors for America, going off beaten tracks. They were antidotes to the Ugly American.
I remember Dad’s international phone calls in those days. He practically screamed through the house to make sure he was heard on the other end. He and my mom had many friends all over the world. When I was a kid, I remember trading partners frequently staying at our house. I think particularly of Aldo Fantacci, Vitaliano, and Mr. Takahashi. They became more than business partners – they were fast friends.
My Dad’s drive, determination, hard work, and international busness savvy caused his business, Baird Associates, to thrive for many years. That was a great and creative accomplishment and it allowed his whole family a very comfortable standard of living.
This is remarkable considering that as a young man starting out, he had no advantages. He grew up poor. His dad, Phil, my Pop-Pop, was a sweet guy but he was a negligent father and he had trouble with the law. Pop-Pop had a criminal record for arson and interstate robbery. My Dad faced discrimination because he was the son of an ex-con.
From the time he was 12 years old, Dad had to take economic responsibility for his whole family. He worked non-stop. Not only did Dad have the financial responsibilities but he had to be a father figure to his younger brother Carl and his sister Arline.
Dad used to tell me about going to prison to see his dad. He brought his dad cream for his coffee which the prison did not provide. To get the cream to his dad, he had to pay off a prison guard.
Dad supported both his parents from age 12 on. That never stopped until they passed away. Starting at 12, he gave his paycheck to his mother. He started with a paper route and he worked multiple jobs. He pretty much paid for everything where his parents were concerned. Although I knew my grandparents as loving and devoted to their grandchildren, they gave Dad almost nothing.
Dad always regretted his lack of education. He had tremendous respect for learning and education. He never had the opportunity to go to college though. He had to drop out of high school to work. He briefly attended the Philadelphia College of Textiles. I do think part of the reason he sent his children to private school was because he had been shortchanged in his own life and he did not want his children to have his experience. He wanted them to have every advantage he missed out on.
Dad’s generosity was a defining characteristic. He gave and gave. For someone with street smarts, he often got taken advantage of. That did not stop his giving. As a child of Don’s, I have to say there was not much he and my mom did not give us.
When I was 10, my Dad took me and my friend, Hank Fried, to Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Florida. I remember seeing Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, and Curt Simmons. That was huge and it is a memory I cherish.
Over the years, Dad, Mom and I went to many Phillies and Eagles games together. In the late 50’s-early 60’s, Dad got Eagles season tickets. Together we saw the Norm Van Brocklin-led Eagles beat the Packers at Franklin Field in 1960. That was the last time the Eagles won a champonship.
I remember going to the old Connie Mack Stadium to watch the Phils play the Giants. I am not sure why but I remember Willie McCovey hitting a towering homer near the light tower in right field to beat the Phils in a night game. The memories are wonderful.
Dad was a good athlete himself. He loved many sports, especially golf. He belonged to quite a few clubs and he could shoot low to mid 80’s at the height of his game. He also played tennis, fished, and rode horses.
He had amazing enthusiasm for life and he was always up for trying new things. Later in life, he took flying lessons and he considered getting his own plane. As a son, it was tremendous to have a dad with such zest.
To say Dad was a fan of his wife and kids does not do justice to his passion. He was way over the top but I have to say as his child it was wonderful to have such a strong supporter behind you. No one could have been a bigger fan than Dad. He was so effusive talking about his Dee, Jonny, Lise, and Robs. And then later about his grandchildren.
While it is superficial to mention this, my Dad was an extremely handsome man. In early pictures, he and my mom look like movie stars. Women always loved my dad and it is easy to see why.
Dad and Mom had a very good marriage. They had almost 60 years together. Dad was loyal and a very strong family man. He made me aware of what a family could be in a good sense.
Dad was also very stubborn. He was not easy to disagree with. We had our conflicts but I was fortunate in that we were able to move way beyond the conflicts we had when I was in my 20’s.
I would not describe Dad as a religious or spiritual person. He grew up in an orthodox Jewish milieu but he rebelled against that. He knew Yiddish and he had great familiarity with things Jewish but he was never much of a believer.
As an adult, he became a reform Jew which fit his world view much better. I remember Dad listening to Jewish radio shows on Sunday where Jewish stars sang songs like “My Yiddishe Mama”. Dad could sing that too. He had real feeling for Jewish culture. I would say he was knowledgeable about the tradition but not comfortable with the religious baggage. He used to tell me religion was a crutch for weak people.
I remember Dad snoring during Friday night services at Main Line Reform Temple. He would need an elbow sometimes when the snoring got too loud. He did serve in the temple and I remember Dad making pizza at the temple Purim party.
Dad had a thing about the extreme Orthodox. Driving around Lower Merion in his later years (which was the community where he lived and I grew up), Dad watched the now large community of Orthodox Jews who were dressed up in old world long Black coats and widebrim hats. He was intolerant of the Orthodox brand of Judaism.
Dad was a modernist and he was thoroughly Americanized. Having had exposure to orthodoxy as a child, he was totally turned off to it. He thought the Orthodox were bad for the Jews.
I am glad that Dad did not see my sister Lisa die because I think that would have pushed him over the edge. Dad and Lise had a special bond.
Since Dad died I have wanted to praise him and to express my eternal thanks to him. I was very fortunate to have a role model like Don Baird. I will close with two poems.
My Father   by Yehuda Amichai
The memory of my father is wrapped up in
white paper, like sandwiches taken for a week at work.
Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,
and the rivers of his hands
overflowed with good deeds.
translated from the Hebrew by Azila Talit Reisenberger
For Brother, What Are We?    by Thomas Wolfe
For brother, what are we?
We are the sons of our father,
Whose face we have never seen,
We are the sons of our father,
Whose voice we have never heard,
We are the sons of our father,
To whom we have cried for strength and comfort
In our agony,
We are the sons of our father,
Whose life like ours
Was lived in solitude and in the wilderness,
We are the sons of our father,
To whom only can we speak out
The strange, dark burden of our heart and spirit,
We are the sons of our father,
And we shall follow the print of his foot forever.

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