So, this isn’t the revealing of a scandal of any sort. This is just about two people, who didn’t know one another, born fifteen years apart, on two different continents, whose paths never crossed but who, when I think back, were part of my growing up. One (the man on the left) is my father, born Edgar Braun, know as Eddie, to family and friends, and Ed to business acquaintances and colleagues. The other(on the right), Mary Tyler Moore, was known to millions, as a woman who was admired and watched on television, bringing laughter and substance, as well as the realization, that being a woman in a man’s world and industry, was more than a possibility.
Eddie, would have been ninety-five today. Mary reached eighty, last month. They probably would have gotten along, because he enjoyed good conversation and although he didn’t easily watch much comedy on television, he might have admired her career, as he worked in business, and in an industry (insurance) that was male dominated. He worked alongside women, who supported the work in clerical and some managerial positions, and he treated them with respect and regard. He was part of the “Greatest Generation” and worked in Manhattan during the “Mad Men” years but didn’t participate in the so call “hijinks” behaviors that characterized the 1960s. He worked hard and was well educated, and almost completed his PhD in Economics. He faced some prejudice in the workplace, as the only observant Jewish employee, in an office that was primarily staffed by non-Jews who were white males. It required him to learn how to get along, and fit in, in order to move up the corporate ladder without making the differences matter in an obvious way. He worked long hours and was able to retire at age 62 and do the things that he and my mother enjoyed, including lots of travel, fishing (for him) and researching our roots. His job was his employment, not his life and he knew the difference and he talked the talk as well as walked the walk. As a teenager, I sometimes went to work with him on Saturdays if he had some things to catch up on. We would take the elevated train from Queens, the No. 7, Flushing line, into Grand Central and walk to the office. It was always quiet, and as he turned on the lights, I remember the offices, and cubicles and switchboard becoming bright, and I walked around with a reverie that this might be a place for me some day. Some weeks in the summer, as I got older, I was asked to fill in for his secretaries while they were on vacation and I learned the switchboard, and how to answer a phone properly “Mr. Braun’s office, may I help you?” I remember thinking what could I do in the corporate world. The switchboard perhaps, or being an “executive secretary”? In time I knew I had a different career path in mind but my relationships and observations of office life and decorum, and how formal it seemed and how prescribed it appeared, left its mark on my memory.
Mary Tyler Moore was someone whose life and character as “Mary Richards” became someone who I decided I liked. I adored her apartment and thought she had a pretty good life, with friends and colleagues. I never thought of her as someone who needed a partner in life to be complete. It was pretty revolutionary to imagine a woman, independent and happy, and most of all, successful in a world that was created by men, for men. I was finishing up high school as the show began and saw that she was more than a character, she had dimension and her challenges were those that were going on with many women around me. I just was one of those people who hoped that things worked out for her, both on television and in life. She demonstrated hard work and fortitude. It transcended television.
It seems a funny coupling, Eddie and Mary, but when I thought of today and them, it made sense to remember both, as one real to me and palpable as my parent, and other as real in the sense of a role model “woman of substance”. I admire both. I miss my father for his intellect and wit and reassurance at times. I was an adult when he died and he left me with an understanding of how systems worked in the world and how to guide others in fairness and kindness. Mary’s lessons were absorbed through her ability to show another way in which life was full of possibilities. It’s nice to remember people who guide us. It keeps them with us and I always believe that one’s death is a moment in a lifetime, but it is not the measure of a life.
Miss you, Daddy.